Coping with Uncertainty in the Age of COVID-19
Remember 2019? Take yourself back to a favorite memory of last year, then look one year into the future to today. It’s doubtful you could possibly imagine the world you’re living in this very minute. Working from home instead of your downtown office. Home-schooling the kids in recent months. Re-thinking summer vacations and steering clear of family celebrations. Wondering what the future may bring.
Yes, many businesses in North Texas have reopened, but recent spikes in infection rates in North Texas and statewide are adding an air of uncertainty to many over jobs, personal finances, relationships, and physical and mental health. So, exactly how do we cope with uncertainty and feeling powerless and out of control in the age of COVID-19? In this first of a three-part series, we’ll share some tips from the experts on how to exist and thrive in this unprecedented time.
What Doesn’t Work
First, let’s talk about a common coping mechanism that doesn’t work: worrying. According to this timely Helpguide piece, many of us use worry as a tool for modeling the future as a means to avoid potential surprises. Why do we do it? Because it may make us feel like we are in control of our current situation, so we seek solutions through worrying to prepare for the worst.
Still others believe if they fret about a problem for a certain amount of time and seek as many opinions on the topic as possible, they’ll be able to find a solution. So, what’s the bottom line? Worrying won’t change a thing. It doesn’t put you in the driver’s seat, and it robs you of enjoying the present moment because you’re too busy wringing your hands.
Uncertainty: Tools for Coping
As humans, we gravitate to opportunities that seem to give us control, a sense of security and safety. It makes us feel more comfortable, especially in times like we’re experiencing now. But these times are unlike anything we’ve experienced, so it’s important to take a deep breath and realize you’re not alone in your feelings.
A recent NBC Better article details nine tips to cope with the uncertainty provides some excellent advice for dealing with the feelings many of us are experiencing now. Some of the advice may seem familiar, while others recommendations may be new to you. We take a look at the first three tips here, and also get the opinion of Dustin Webb, a licensed clinical social worker and administrator of behavioral health for Texas Health Dallas.
Start with You: Engage in Self-Care
Yale University’s Robin Stern, a psychologist says, “We’re all anxious about the news, stressed and stretched from dealing with the day-to-day disruption.” She says that part of the stress comes from being surrounding by others who are anxious and on edge, so we must take care of ourselves by getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and engaging in some kind of movement — to keep calm and stay centered.
Webb says it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day routines and forget about taking care of yourself. Mixing anxiety into that lack of care, only makes it hard to cope.
Don’t judge your own or others’ anxiety
Now is not the time to judge yourself or others for feeling anxiety. Stern says we can’t beat ourselves for the moment, but rather take stock of our feelings and take it one step at a time. At the same time, we can’t judge others. She adds that we have to give ourselves and others permission to have the feelings we have right now.
“One of the bests ways we can influence others in this age of uncertainty is to avoid judging others,” Webb says. “We are in uncharted waters, and the things we’ve relied on in the past to cope, like social gatherings or even something as simple as a hug, are gone also. So, what we’re feeling today is a reaction to an abnormal situation, and frankly, getting through these times is more difficult for some than it is for others.”
Stay Connected – Virtually
By now, many of us are pretty adept at connecting virtually with colleagues, family and friends on Zoom, Skype and similar apps. When a socially distanced gathering is not possible, it’s the best possible way to meet. Old-fashioned phone calls have also made a comeback in recent months, and are a more familiar, comforting way to stay engaged.
Webb adds that he and his behavioral health colleagues at Texas Health Dallas have discovered that virtual appointments with clients are widely accepted as the norm by clients today. In fact, he believes that COVID-19 may have been a catalyst for the way many of his clients are treated, with more virtual appointments anticipated in the future.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health issues, a physician or licensed professional counselor can help. Find a physician or counselor near you or call 1-877-605-1651. The Texas Health Behavioral Health helpline is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 682-236-6023. To learn more about the services offered by our Behavioral Health centers, please visit TexasHealth.org/Behavioral-Health.
Next in our series, how radical acceptance, focusing on the facts, and avoiding information overload are essential to coping with uncertainty during the pandemic.