If this year has taught us anything, it’s uncertainty. Although we may see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine accessible to most, it’s going to take a while to shake off the trauma 2020 delivered. Uncertainty flooded our everyday lives—between not knowing when our health and safety wouldn’t be under threat, to not understanding the different restrictions state to state, to simply not knowing when our daily lives would resume to normal. It was tough to swallow. But this is not the only time in our lives that we will face uncertainty. 2020 was unique because uncertainty plagued all of our lives. Typically, uncertainty strikes different people at different times. Ideally, the following tips will help aid you through this year, but also in years to come. Here are some best practices on how to cope when uncertainty strikes:
- Uncertainty is never permanent. Or better put, uncertainty is always temporary. No matter what you’re going through, this period of crisis will pass. No matter how long ago March 2020 feels, we all know that at some point our lives will return to normal. Although we don’t know when that will happen, it’s comforting to know that every stressful season of uncertainty is temporary. Hold on to the knowledge that the stress and anxiety has an expiration date, regardless of how acute it feels today.
- Predictability = safety + security. In order to feel like we are in control, we need two things: safety and security. Without either, our lives tend to feel like they’re spiraling. That’s why 2020 felt so chaotic and traumatic for so many; our daily routines and coping mechanisms were stripped away because of safety concerns. Without our typical fallbacks, we felt insecure. And for obvious reasons, many of us did not feel safe all year. So whenever you feel out of control with no method to predict what’s coming next, try to ground yourself through safety and security. Create a routine and stick to it. Focus on things that are inside of your control instead of depending on others to follow through (cc: mask etiquette). Together, these aspects can give you a sense of predictability and control in your life.
- Hold space for negative emotions. PSA: It is absolutely OK to not be OK. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary to not feel OK. We as a culture have a problem with toxic positivity. We love to airbrush over troubled times and pretend that everything is peachy keen, even as the world as we know it is crumbling around us. Thanks, Instagram! Combat this urge to gloss over the ugly emotions by embracing them. Give them a name. Understand them. Ask them to come inside and offer them a warm beverage and a salty snack. Welcome them with curiosity and compassion. And once you get to know them, release them back to where they came from. Trying to sweep negative emotions under the rug only gives them more power. They exist. And they’re not going anywhere until you give them acknowledgement, and sometimes, a voice. This doesn’t mean you have to be consumed by them. In fact, holding space for negative emotions does just the opposite. It gives them a time and a place to be heard so they can leave in a timely manner and not wreak havoc on the rest of your day. This is why so many people tend to bounce back. They acknowledge their emotions and therefore make room for other positive emotions soon after.So don’t be afraid to get comfortable with the icky feelings you’re actively trying to push away. The sooner you make space for them, the sooner they’ll pass.
- Accept your reality. During times of acute uncertainty, it’s almost instinctual to wish for easier times. We love to recreate reality in our imagination in order to cope. But we can’t change our reality. And when the dissonance between what we wish was reality and what is actually reality comes to a head, it’s easy to feel despondent and depressed. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Instead, accept the reality of whatever situation you’re in and work to adapt to that. If you continue to force a false narrative on yourself, you’ll spin your wheels until you are forced to surrender. Instead, get creative within your reality. For example, plenty of 2020 brides eloped instead of having the 200-person gala, and ended up loving their intimate moments. Zoom happy hours replaced restaurant happy hours. Romantic restaurants with all of the fixings popped up in living rooms everywhere. Those who made the best of what they could were also the ones who quickly accepted the new norm and adjusted in suit. The quicker you can accept your reality and abandon your fantasies, the easier dealing with the real world will be.
- Simplify your life. “K-I-S-S. Keep it simple, stupid” If you try to overwhelm yourself with the complexities of life during any time of uncertainty, you’re just piling it on yourself for absolutely no reason. Go back to the basics. What do you need to accomplish today? You probably need to get out of bed, feed yourself, clean yourself, clothe yourself, do your job (whatever that entails), take time for yourself, connect with others and sleep. So please don’t try to make it any more difficult for yourself than it already is. When in survival mode, we need the basics to anchor us. The things that we know we need to do, and that we even like to do, during times of crisis. The rest can fall off until things stabilize. So if you are pressuring yourself to do more than necessary, you’re only adding additional chaos to an already delicate situation. Go easy on yourself. Keep it simple. There will be a time in the future when things will go back to normal, and you can be your complicated, over-achieving, hard-worker self. I promise.
- Set yourself up for success. Humans love progression. We like feeling in control of our situations, and we like seeing growth happening right before our eyes. So one of the easiest ways to feel better about yourself during times of acute uncertainty, is to create small actionable goals for yourself to cross off a list. Seriously, the smaller the better. Think: taking your supplements; drinking a certain amount of water per day; walking X amount of steps; cleaning your room… Hell, taking a shower can even count on some days. And, each and every time you achieve one of your small goals, celebrate. Give yourself a pat on the back for surviving during one of the harder times of your life. We don’t give ourselves enough credit most days – and in times like this – we could use all of the self-confidence we can get. So be sure to show up for yourself by keeping the small promises you’re making, and by celebrating when you’ve followed through with them.
- Practice self-care. Self-care can be defined as anything you do to rest, reset or reflect. At its best, self-care is used to refill your cup. We all need to nourish ourselves and our energy, and the best and fastest way to do this is to engage in self-care. However, self-care is typically the first thing that goes out the window during times of crisis. We decide we have to focus on everything else—our jobs, our finances, our families, and our friends. But without caring for ourselves first, the rest of these will inevitably suffer. Even though it feels impossible, carve out time for yourself. If you neglect yourself, you won’t be able to show up as your full self whenever times are tough. Replenish your energy and invest in your own happiness and relaxation. You’ll see the benefits rather quickly if you stay consistent. To everyone feeling hyper-stressed out thanks to a grueling year, I’m with you. I hope these tips bring you some comfort, solace and relief from the chronic pressure you’ve been experiencing. And remember, uncertainty is never permanent. This will pass. But in the meantime, these tips will help you cope until we are back into our natural routines and rhythms.
Strength and courage,