Managing the Sea of Uncertainty
There is an old axiom from family therapy quarters: 'The way in which you are trying to fix the problem actually contributes to more problems.'
This is especially true for how we often attempt to manage uncertainty. In other words, when it comes to uncertainty, sometimes the way we try to manage it IS the problem. Let's face it, not knowing something can elicit fear and anxiety and a nearly unending attempt to 'figure things out'. During this current time of health, social and financial concerns, the not knowing -- or uncertainty -- is plaguing many of us.
Unfortunately, the well-intended way we try to manage the anxiety of things like: "Will there be a vaccine? Will I get sick? Will schools re-open? Will I lose my job or health benefits? Will I be discriminated against? Is my family in danger?", often results in more of the same (understandable) feelings of unease and worry.
As challenging as these times are, uncertainty isn't something we can solve, but it is something we can manage. There are ways to 'hack' our response. There is no guarantee that the following ideas will be 100% effective, but there is a likelihood that not following them will could to continued distress.
Act on the Outcomes you Can Reasonably Anticipate
We don't know if or when there will be a COVID-19 vaccine, but we can reasonably anticipate it won't be within 120 days. We can also reasonably anticipate that social distancing, handwashing and mask wearing will be with us for some time. While our brains would like to have exact dates and exact information, we don't need the exact information as much as we think in order to take care of ourselves, and demanding this information of ourselves is bound to contribute to internal distress (because we just don't know yet). This isn't to say we can't advocate for public health improvements, but it's important to our daily mental health for us act to on things we can reasonably anticipate and reasonably control.
Cut Back on News Consumption
The 24 hour news cycle is often just an advertisement for the 24 hour news cycle. Not all, but much of the commercial news is designed to sell products and services (commercials). We need far less news updates than we have been lead to believe and limiting news and media consumption can allow us to put things in perspective and limit worry.
There is no doubt that there are many legitimately concerning things going on today, the COVID pandemic, racism, oppression, school uncertainty, economic inequality; to name a few. Practicing mindfulness techniques won't cure these societal ills. But mindfulness will help train your brain to notice that in this moment 'you are okay'. Worry about serious topics can lead to your mind generalizing that concern into an immediate flight or fight response. And as serious as these issues are, mindfulness can help train your mind to notice that in this moment, you are safe. Our website offers lots of articles on simple ways to be more mindful. Here are a few:
Insert and Give Yourself Plenty of Breaks
In physical exercise, high intensity interval training (HIIT) is based on the idea that your body can handle bursts of intense exercise better than you think, as long as you mix it up, and move from one circuit or muscle group to the next. Similarly, inserting even small breaks in your day can help you break out of dwelling on uncertainty, ground you and increase your daily emotional tolerance. Taking a walk around the block, listening to music, stopping what you're doing to do 10 pushups or jumping jacks, phoning a friend, are all simple ways to use a brief break to take your mind off the stuck track of dwelling on uncertainty.
You don't need to be perfect and you don't need to solve every problem today. Sure, you can certainly get motivated and activated to engage in community change projects, voting rights, racial justice or other advocacy causes. But all change must start with self-awareness and self-kindness. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. You are worthy of kindness and happiness. Here are some reminders of ways to practice self-kindness: