Coping During a Time of Uncertainty

By Hudi Kowalsky, LMHC

Recent events at the global, national and local levels have left many of us feeling uncertain. Our offices and leisure spaces have been shuttered due to COVID-19. We have been forced to spend more time in solitude, and we have been denied many of the activities that used to bring us joy and comfort. We are also acutely aware of the pain – historic and present – of racial disparities. The killing of George Floyd was just one example of horrific violence and discrimination against People of Color, and the response to this brutality has brought major unrest across the country. All of this calls into question what the future will hold.

Under “ordinary” circumstances, dealing with uncertainty can be a challenge. In the present time of uncertainty, however, it simply seems overwhelming. As a result of this uncertainty and unrest, a considerable amount of dormant issues have risen to the surface for many of us. Being coerced into thinking about issues that touch on our fundamental nature can be unnerving, however,  when properly nurtured, can ultimately be extremely rewarding. 

 What can we do to cope at this most uncertain time? What can we do to find solace, meaning, and happiness? Here are a few strategies that may help:

  1. Try to find a safe place to discuss the issues surrounding COVID-19 related stress, and complex emotions related to racial disparities. Even just one close friend, family member, or confidant (like a therapist) can make a big difference. All of us are struggling and need a shoulder to lean on.
  2. Watch your thoughts. Sometimes we tell ourselves that “things can never get better” or similar sort of extreme statements – look out for and acknowledge these and seek alternatives that are more digestible. 
  3. Know what your body feels like when in a calm and rested state. Understand your ‘baseline’ and have tools to find it when things seem tough. This provides a compass so we can find a pathway to tranquility when the fires rage around us.
  4. Stay active, but know your limits. Zoom calls can keep us productive, and activism can increase our sense of agency, but these and other activities can be (surprisingly) physically demanding and emotionally draining. Stay in tune with your body and know when FOMO is getting the better of you.
  5. Take breaks and do less intense activities to take the edge off. Schedule a “virtual happy hour” with friends, or play a board game even if it’s over video-chat. Take walks, stretch, and laugh! 

To conclude, here is a teaching from the poet Gregory Orr: “We ordinary people, in our daily lives experience enormous amounts of disorder and confusion. It’s inside us. It’s in our past. It’s in the unknowable future. And we just navigate our lives with this kind of interplay of disorder and order. And what [literature] says to us is, turn your confusion, turn your world into words. Take it outside yourself into language. Literature says, I’m going to meet you halfway. You just bring me your chaos. I’ll bring you all sorts of ordering principles.” 

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