As humans, we gravitate to opportunities that seem to give us control, a sense of security and safety. It makes us feel more comfortable, especially in times like we’re experiencing now. But these times are unlike anything we’ve experienced, so it’s important to take a deep breath and realize you’re not alone in your feelings.
In this second part of a three-part series on uncertainty during the pandemic, we’ll explore three additional tips for coping during the age of COVID-19 inspired by a recent NBC Better piece. Some of the tips may seem familiar to you, while others may be new. We also sought the professional advice of Dustin Webb, a licensed clinical social worker and administrator of behavioral health for Texas Health Dallas who shares his perspective for dealing with uncertainty these days.
Practicing Radical Acceptance
Let’s face it. Things we used to control in our daily lives have spun out of control in recent months. Uncertainty filters through much of our lives, and that triggers fear, according to Neda Gould, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Gould says, “We view uncertainty as a potential threat to our well-being.”
These days, it’s important to accept the fact that there are many things out of our normal control. Although it’s a challenge for most, we have to let go of the things we can’t control and focus on what we can according to psychologist Robin Stern, a psychologist and associate director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Stern says start with a bit of positive self-talk and concentrate on controllable opportunities like cooking a meal, contacting a friend or working out.
Webb adds that perspective on life’s happenings are especially important now as they pertain to radical acceptance. He points to the popular serenity prayer that reminds us to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Focusing on the Facts
Gould says it’s important to stay informed and updated on policies and guidelines – but not let yourself jump to ‘what ifs.’ He suggests that if you find yourself in a cycle of catastrophic thinking, it’s important to breathe deeply and practice mindfulness techniques, which may help minimize that kind of thinking. With the mounting news on COVID-19 – much of it dire – this is a particular challenge to many of us.
Webb says many of us fall into a cycle of fear anticipating what may happen next, based on a heightened level of news and information consumption. He says it’s important to examine facts and look at the likelihood of outcomes in the context of your life and behavior. Webb says patients can sometimes ‘catastrophize’ – a type of cognitive distortion that prompts them to conclude the worst possible outcome, leading to further anxiety and fear.
Avoid Information Overload
These days, it’s difficult to avoid information about the Coronavirus. From morning TV shows to talk radio, social media and evening news. It’s easy to consume too much information. Stern says it’s important that we stay informed but to avoid consuming the news all day. She suggests choosing trusted sources of information, checking them out at chosen times of the day, and sticking with that schedule. She adds that constant news consumption will only drive anxiety higher.
Webb concurs, and adds it’s important to recognize when information overload puts you in a bad place, and recommends monitoring your emotions. If watching the news makes you angry, ask yourself whether gathering that information was justified. Webb says he tries to keep his own emotions in check, and early in the pandemic made a decision to watch the news once a day.
An article in Psychology Today by Austin Perlmutter, M.D.1, he says we look to TV, radio, phones and social media to quell unpleasant emotions in search of answers from the news. Unfortunately, this very behavior can backfire and make our mental health even worse.
Next in our series, how having fun, being grateful, and taking control of what we can control are essential to coping with uncertainty.