Navigating an Uncertain Future

The beginning of 2022. A rise in Covid-19 cases starts off another year with more uncertainty after two long years into the pandemic. Many are feeling overwhelmed by the burden on their mental health as we may not see an end in sight. If this resonates with you, you are not alone.

The popular media has often labeled these as “uncertain times.” Difficulty tolerating uncertainty, which is defined as the intolerance of certainty, is an underlying factor for many individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders. When there is not a known outcome, it is easy to fall into a spiral of questions and ruminations. Here are some strategies to help if you begin ruminating or repeatedly wondering “what if”:

  1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is an attentional training to focus on the present moment, nonjudgmentally. When you find yourself ruminating, first notice your thoughts, physical reactions, and emotions. Then, name them. “I am noticing anxiety. I am noticing my heart start to race. Thoughts about uncertainty are present.” Remember to look out for judgments, such as “I should be able to cope with this.” You deserve compassion, and judging yourself for these thoughts will likely make you feel worse, not better.
  • Practice the ABC PLEASE skill. In stressful times, activities involving self-care are usually the first to go. However, even in the midst of a pandemic, it is important to re-build time into your schedule devoted to the following skills.
    • A – Accumulating Positive Emotions – both in the short term and the long term. Do at least one small pleasant activity a day.
    • B – Build Mastery – Do one thing to help you feel a sense of accomplishment each day.
    • C – Cope Ahead – Plan ahead of time for something you know might be difficult. Rehearse using coping skills in your mind to cope effectively.
    • PL – Treat PhysicaL Illness – If needed, ensure you take your prescribed medication and see the appropriate doctors. If you are not comfortable going for a physical exam due to rates in your area, ask your doctor if they are having virtual appointments.
    • E – Balance Eating – Eat regularly throughout the day, being mindful of your hunger and fullness cues.
    • A – Avoid Mood-Altering SubstancesUsing alcohol or other drugs can be tempting to help cope with feelings of anxiety and stress. However, these substances can often lead to more anxiety and low mood.
    • S – Balance SleepMost people need about 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Keep a consistent sleep schedule where you go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day, even on the weekends. When preparing for sleep, turn off the light and do not use your bed for watching TV or scrolling on your phone.
    • E – Get Exercise – Exercise each day, even if it’s for a short amount of time. Working from home means that we are often not as active as we used to be. Try to build up to 10-20 minutes of daily exercise, whether that is walking outside, or doing an at-home workout.  

Although incorporating these skills to improve your mental health may feel overwhelming at first, you deserve to feel differently than you do right now. Start small and begin with a few minutes a day carved out for something pleasant, and you’ll begin to challenge your uncertainty.

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