Coping with continued uncertainty
This time last year, most of us probably hoped we’d be heading towards the end of 2021 with a much clearer idea of what lay in store! The discovery of the Omicron variant means that once again we can’t be completely sure how things will pan out, or whether the plans we make for the months ahead will be disrupted. While we’re undeniably in a better position than we were in 2020, there’s still no guarantee that whatever we plan – from festive gatherings to holidays – won’t need to be changed or adapted.
This continuing unpredictability might be causing some people to feel anxious, on edge, or down. While none of us can control what happens with the pandemic, we can control how we respond to the uncertainty, and also build our resilience to cope better with whatever comes our way.
Acknowledge how you feel. It’s normal to experience feelings like anxiety, sadness and anger when our hopes and plans are threatened or disrupted; they matter a lot, especially after the last couple of years. Allowing ourselves to fully feel our emotional reaction helps us to understand and process what’s happening, and to move forward.
Challenge negative assumptions. If you’re having upsetting thoughts like ‘There’s no point organising anything fun for next year’ or ‘This Christmas is going to be cancelled again’, ask yourself whether that’s definitely true. As things stand, even with some restrictions having been brought back, things are much better than they were a year ago. It might help if you take some time think about what you can do right now that you couldn’t do back then.
If you’re anxious, test your assumptions. In CBT we do experiments to help people change the relationship they have with their thoughts, which enables them to manage their feelings better. If you’re worried about the uncertainty that still lies ahead, and believe you won’t be able to cope if life is shaken up again, do something that has an uncertain outcome and see how you get on. This could be as simple as trying something completely different if you always order the same takeaway! The message your brain will receive is that you can deal with uncertainty.
Recognise what’s out of your control. Many of the events that affect our plans are unavoidable or out of our hands. Accepting when there’s nothing we could do to influence the outcome can help us to handle any worry, disappointment and frustration. Focus on making plans in the areas of life you know you can control, whether that’s work, activities with the family, deciding what to binge watch on TV, or books you want to read.
Resist the temptation to constantly check the news. Monitoring for updates on the situation may initially seem to be a useful activity, but doing this excessively can make us feel worse. If you have push notifications, consider turning these off. Perhaps just check a trustworthy news source twice a day to keep up with the latest updates and advice. And actively seek out the positive news!
Review your expectations. Are you expecting too much of yourself? Are you feeling pressure to do all the things you missed out on in the last couple of years, or to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas? This can lead to stress. That certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have hopes and make plans for the coming months, but it will help if we stop and consider whether they’re realistic right now. If you find yourself thinking ‘I should…’, try softening this to ‘I’d like to’, ‘I will aim to’ or ‘I hope’.
Seek support if you need it. If you have an existing mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or OCD, and the current situation is having a significant impact on you, then please do reach out for support. This also goes for people who may be experiencing symptoms for the first time.
You can find out more about how CBT helps us to manage our feelings here.