How to Cope with Uncertainty during Stressful Situations
If you think back to the last time you had a major life challenge—a loss, a failure, a major change or setback—there was likely a lot of uncertainty involved. In fact, it is the state of not knowing outcomes, and the unpredictable nature of the future, that perpetuates fear and anxiety during stressful situations.
However, as we learn, grow, and experience life, stress remains stressful, but yet we learn to adapt. Challenges and pitfalls grow a bit more predictable with time. Not easier, but still, much more familiar. We begin to learn that bad times are followed by better times ahead. Loss brings opportunity. Hardships brings us greater appreciation and gratitude for the many gifts we have in our lives.
The year 2020 and the onset of the coronavirus into the lives of people worldwide has given the term uncertainty a whole new meaning. The consequences of the virus represent unchartered territory for most people. The majority of us have never had to face a pandemic or know how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe in such a situation. We have all had to give ourselves emergency crash courses—via the news, social media, and the Internet—to uncover fact from fiction on safety guidelines and prevention. COVID-19 is the ultimate uncertainty, a mystery, and an event that feels more like the scenes and plot of a fictional movie—certainly not real life. Fear and anxiety can be considered inevitable, and actually very normal, because this is not a stressor we have had the chance to process before, adapt to, and understand.
However, you can still very much apply the resilience you have within you—that fortitude that has gotten you through tough times in the past. If you break down the many consequences of COVID, you will find many more similarities to other life struggles you’ve had than you think. Many people are facing financial hardships, health struggles, work-related stress, family problems, and child-rearing concerns. All the result of this virus that has transformed our lives so suddenly, but nonetheless, issues we have had to cope with before.
When fear and anxiety set in, remember the losses you have accepted, the challenges you have overcome, and the barriers you have brought down. Below are some insights and important steps you can take to cope and most of all, to utilize and apply the resilience that has gotten you through uncertainty before.
· Accept and acknowledge fear and anxiety. High-stress situations sometimes lead to divisiveness. It seems that some people are highly alarmed by COVID while others dismiss and deny it. Then there are those in between who are practicing care and caution. One thing these three groups have in common is fear and anxiety. Yes, even the deniers and dismiss-ers are worried and afraid in their own way.
A major part of coping is accepting and acknowledging that you’re afraid—that sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing, that you don’t have a plan, and that you feel out of options—and that it’s okay. Denying these thoughts and feelings can do far more harm, as fear and anxiety can still build up in the background. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that these feelings are present. This is a strong first step towards finding avenues for solutions.
· Take the pressure off to make any big decisions right now. In fact, try to eliminate any type of self-imposed demands. During times of stress, it’s important to problem-solve and manage the most important issues first and leave less critical things for another point in time. For example, imminent issues might be financial stress, so focus on options, alternatives, and resources that are available. Learn from other people, listen, and ask questions.
· Fear and anxiety…everyone has it! Normalizing fear and anxiety is very helpful in coping with it, but this idea is not meant to console you in a misery-likes-company kind of way. Normalizing feelings allows you to take a breath and realize that you are not on an island by yourself. Fear and anxiety can make you believe this! The impact of COVID—and the financial, health, social, and interpersonal issues that have resulted—are a collective problem that so many people are struggling with. Fear and anxiety have a way of leading you down an isolation tunnel where you believe you’re struggling alone. Remember that although not everyone talks about it, most people are experiencing these same feelings.
· Focus on your strengths. This is by far the most important coping skill when managing fear and anxiety. Negative thinking can cause you to completely forget (or at least ignore) anything positive, like effective solutions that you might have at hand. During times when your losses seem to far outnumber any wins or gains, focus on what you can do, not on your limitations. What are you able to do with the lemons you are handed? What skills do you have despite the fear and anxiety that feels overwhelming and all-encompassing right now? What can you do to take a small step forward? Can you repeat these small steps tomorrow, the next day, and every day from now on? You must make it a point to direct your thoughts in this manner because negative thinking can cloud you from considering possibilities.
Remember your resilience. Remember the end of the story where you have found meaning in your greatest struggles, where you’ve looked back at how far you’ve come, and where you have understood how even in your moments of greatest fear and anxiety, you searched for hope—and you found it.