• Heather Bense

Coping with Uncertainty

Think about how you might respond to these statements: work is a mess and layoffs are coming. My attention to my physical health and wellness is slacking. My kids are attending school virtually and can’t work independently. I’m worried about the health of my family and friends. Do I have enough in savings to hold things together? What’s going to happen next month? What’s going to happen tomorrow? Why is it getting harder to handle all of this?

For many of us, living in a (post? ongoing? variant-laden?) COVID-19 world certainly has worn away our stored resilience. How can we cope with all this uncertainty?

First, we need to remember that we are more than heads floating in a screen: we are whole organisms that have developed over millennia to scan our environments for danger and react accordingly. Our body’s physiological response to stress doesn’t take into consideration that the “danger” that we feel isn’t necessarily life and death: the same systems will flood our bodies with hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that over time that can cause chronic patterns of damage. Notice how the stress and/or anxiety is impacting you the most in your body.

Wether you seek out consultation, supervision, start a peer supervision group or seek counseling, we helping professionals must also engage in support of one another. Here are some strategies to accomplish this:

Promote Adaptation

Sounds simple, but this can really take a lot of effort in these circumstances. For better or worse, we can’t go back – how do you want your new normal to look? How do you want this new chapter to start? When you’re working with others or reflecting independently, provide detailed explanations as to how and why you feel the way you feel. Especially when you are communicating with others, the more front-loaded the explanations are towards others, the more likely you are to receive support and reduce reactivity. Additionally, if there are functional barriers to achieving this new normal identify strategies towards reducing those barriers.

Promote Resilience

Resilience is an individual’s or system’s ability to adapt to their ever-evolving environment. We can use this concept to foster problem solving and skills that help us stay self-strong in the face of adversity. As part of this, we need to celebrate the micro-victories we experience throughout the day and give ourselves time to marinate in those experiences. Similarly, learning from past stressful life events can help us during these stressful times: what are some examples from your life in which who have dealt with challenging circumstances? How did you get through those challenges? Finally, practice awareness of positive emotions, and accomplishments over “scary” things.

Challenge your negativity bias

Yes, this is a scary time and we don’t know what will come yet. This is not, however, the totality of your thoughts and your experiences from this past year. So why is this all we seem to hold on to? Dr. Rick Hanson coined the term ‘negativity bias’ as an explanation: our ancient brains have learned to survive by scanning our environments for danger and holding onto those experiences as a means of preventing them from happening again. This means, then, that we need to cultivate and practice refocusing on the positive. Turning can’t into yet, for example, turns ‘I can’t handle this’ into ‘I haven’t found the best way to handle this yet’. Additionally, give yourself compassion and move through your day with gratitude to battle your negativity bias. You can do this!

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