We have all faced disruption and change during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and you may like the uncertainty has had a lasting impact. It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of “what ifs” – worrying about the future and what to expect, particularly if we are already struggling with our mental health.
But there are ways we can manage uncertainty to help us reduce stress and cope better. Here are 10 things you can do to help deal with change and look after your mental wellbeing in the face of uncertainty, as well as places you can go to get further free advice and support.
1. Take stock of how you feel
Put time aside to examine your current situation and consider how you really feel, perhaps talking it through with someone you trust. Sometimes, just acknowledging the things that are affecting you can help you to manage feelings of uncertainty. Try to be kind to yourself, and get support with how you are feeling if you think you might need it. There is plenty of help out there from mental health charities and the NHS.
2. Focus on the short term
The further we look into the future, the easier it is to get overwhelmed by long-term uncertainty. Instead, try to focus on the day-to-day, and think about what’s in your power to do right now. Decide what’s important to you, and concentrate on your short-term needs and those of the people close to you. Try breaking down each day or each week into manageable, achievable tasks, and focus on each goal in turn.
This can be hard if you are feeling low. Start with easier activities and work up – as you progress, your mood should improve and it should get a bit easier.
3. Acknowledge what’s working
Even when it might feel like everything is up in the air or going wrong, there will be some things, however small, that do not change. It could be a close relationship, our favourite meal or a song that means something to us. Noticing, acknowledging and being grateful for these constants in our life, as well as any small positive changes we have already made or are working on, can really help us deflect and recover from life’s knocks – and helps us see positive possibilities for the future. Each day, consider what went well and try to list 3 things you’re thankful for.
4. Recognise your achievements
It’s been a really difficult time, and many of us have been tested in ways we never expected. We have all had to find new ways to cope and adapt. Take 10 minutes and list some of your accomplishments or successes from the past 12 months – no matter how big or small. Are there any unexpected ones in there?
Perhaps you learned how to cook a new meal, organised the “cupboard of doom”, home-schooled the kids, led a virtual meeting, helped a friend or neighbour, finished a book you’ve been meaning to read, or spoke to friends and family more.
Even just getting by in the face of one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in many years is a big achievement in itself.
Whatever they are, take time to reflect on and be proud of your accomplishments this year, and keep a note of them from now on.
5. Find a new rhythm
Routine and structure can be a powerful way to regain consistency and reduce uncertainty. Think about all the day-to-day things that are within your control. How can you create a new routine that works for you? It can be as simple as going for a morning walk each day and sticking to the same bedtime. Make time to de-stress and wind down each day – build in positive activities like exercise, relaxation, hobbies, speaking to friends or spending time with those close to you, and think about a positive sleep routine.
6. Try to stay in the moment
When going through a period of change and uncertainty, we can sometimes forget about the here and now. It’s important not to dwell on the past, fixate on the future, or get bogged down by things you do not or cannot know. You can only do your best with what you have today. Relaxation, mindfulness or getting outside and enjoying nature are all good ways to help you focus on the present.
7. Reframe your thoughts
In difficult times, it can be easy to get caught up in negative thoughts, feelings and actions. For most people, feeling uneasy is an understandable response to the uncertainty present in everyday life, but there are ways to manage these feelings.
Maybe you’re disappointed about what was “supposed” to happen or are scared of what the future may hold. You might find yourself in a negative spiral where you fixate on issues and convince yourself of the worst.
It can be helpful to step back, examine the evidence for your thoughts and explore other ways of looking at the situation.
This will not resolve the problems you face but can help break a negative spiral and give you a new perspective – things are often not as bad as we thought.
Watch our video to learn a technique to help you deal with unhelpful thoughts and help you work through things.