Tips for dealing with the stress of uncertainty.

With the current Covid 19 lockdown this is a question on the minds of many. Working as a therapist this is coming up increasingly in sessions, as we all take stock of our individual situations and try to understand the consequences of Covid 19 for our families and the economy . Our usual expectations, schedules, distractions and relationships have been put on hold to be replaced with an increasing list of questions.

For me the first place to start is with acceptance, not the giving up resignation kind, but with acknowledging the reality of our situation as it is and not how we would like it to be. If we remove this resistance to what is, then we are not in a battle with ourselves and this helps us towards self care and compassion.

Here is a list of some things we can accept may be hard right now.

  • Concentration
  • Knowing what to do
  • Creating and sticking to a schedule
  • Motivation
  • Not taking things personally
  • Not worrying
  • Feeling okay about doing less
  • Eating well
  • Managing emotions
  • Not believing our worst case scenario thoughts
  • The unknown

Our relationship with uncertainty.

One truth is we live with ”maybe” everyday, even in “normal” times uncertainty is with us but our lives are busy and our attention is elsewhere.

We are very good at filtering this out and although a long term job, financial security, strong relationships help us to forget this truth it is worth remembering we are at the whim of fate daily. To remind us of this is not to minimize it but to point out that we are able to deal with it, it is not something new to us and we are always more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.

This current situation has concentrated and highlighted it but it has been part of our human experience since birth. Our lives have always been in flux.

When it comes to dealing with uncertainty our brains are wired to react to it with fear and control shifts from our rational brain to our limbic system, where emotions , such as anxiety are generated. Simply put, as we face uncertainty our brains push us to overreact so it is important to calm our limbic system and remind ourselves how resilient we are.

What we can do to calm ourselves.

Everyone will find their own way to deal with their approach to the uncertainty at this time, I know some people are with family, some people are alone, and some are managing work commitments and no matter what our individual circumstances are there is a response we all share. This is the impact our beliefs and thoughts have on our emotional state.

Some of our thinking styles are more helpful than others and at this time it is worth monitoring them, letting our thoughts dwell too long in the future with “what if” questions is throwing fuel on the fire leading to anxiety. Too much time dwelling in the past or on what you have lost leads to sadness and depression. Begin by labeling your thoughts, future, past, present, judging, planning, organizing and notice the difference in your feelings as result of these.

If your thoughts go to the future notice if you have strayed into all the possible worst case scenarios which may occur in your life from the impact of Covid 19 and acknowledge our minds will do this, that it is part of our survival strategy which has evolved within us, gently nudging your future thoughts towards a plan, or several flexible future plans then bring your focus back to the present moment when possible will help towards managing your limbic system and your mood.

We can all relate to “I can’t cope, I can’t bear it” mindsets too, but remind yourself of experiences in your past where you have surprised yourself by your own resilience and strength. I know everyone reading this will have these memories. Use them now to calm your limbic system, it is looking for reassurance from your rational mind, if you tell it you can handle this, it is more likely to get out of your way so you can think clearly.

Provide Choice

Our limbic system does not like to feel cornered, if it believes it has no option or choices it will increasingly feel threatened. Offer it some plans, “I could do this, I could have a go at that,” be imaginative however implausible it may seem. We did not choose to have our limbic system but we can choose to engage with it and take the lead.

Proof of our resilience

Humans, individually and internationally prove time and again to be resilient, resourceful and inventive. We have evolved to adapt and flourish while living on a planet of extremes, in environments with hazards, and disease, (including our current coronavirus) and the human population still increases, almost doubling in the last 50 years.

A favourite quote of mine, although it refers to women, I will take a liberty with it and include everyone, “Women (let’s include all humans) are like teabags, you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Some ideas to consider

  • Limit exposure to news
  • Avoid dwelling on “What if” questions
  • Develop new skills
  • Seek support from those you trust
  • Ask for help
  • Accept some things are harder currently
  • Label your thoughts
  • Nudge thoughts back to the present
  • Remind yourself of situations where you showed resilience
  • Give your limbic system options
  • Accept some things are out of your control.
  • Engage in self care
  • Mindful Breathing, access online resources
  • Listen to our watch some comedy.
  • Do something simple but absorbing, cooking, jigsaw, crossword, gardening, draw, sew, clean. Allow time in the moment and reframe it as necessary not a waste of time.

I hope this is helpful.

Until my next post please take care.