We thrive when they feel safe, feel a sense of belonging and have control over our lives. It is that overall sense of well-being and a growth “mindset” that allows us to cope in difficult times and when facing the unknown. It is not surprising that during these COVID times, our sense of security and safety is eroded, leaving us vulnerable to unproductive patterns of behavior and thought. It is also not surprising that we try to compensate by exerting even more control over things we feel we can control.
Brain researchers describe how the brain reacts to uncertainty by shifting away from rational thought to a stress response (fight or flight). In the past, this response enabled self-preservation from real or perceived threat. When faced with our current pandemic, it is helpful to understand how our brains responds to uncertainty and to learn strategies for managing uncertainty enabling us to tolerate distress and ambiguity.
The limbic system in our brain interferes with our ability to make good decisions and leaves us in a fear state, limiting rational thought and problem solving. Being aware of this and shifting to coping statements that calm us and reduce fear are helpful. In other words, focus your attention and thoughts on what you can do to move forward and manage despite uncertainty. Allowing yourself to become focused on negative thoughts and overly focused on thinking about the past, creates sad, worry and stuck thinking. Thinking about the future and thinking “what ifs” generates worry and panic. Learn to recognize the things you can control and instead of worrying about the uncontrollable, try to refocus your mind on taking actions over the aspects that are within your control. Focus your thinking on the “now”.
- Become an observer and manager of feelings
- Take action over the things within your control
- Recognize and learn to accept uncertainty. Actively practice acceptance of this state for now.
- Learn to live in the present.
- Replace expectations with clear and implementable plans. Expectations can set us up for disappointment.
- Become confident and skilled in your coping and adapting skills