The coronavirus pandemic has meant we’re facing a new level of uncertainty in our lives.
This may be uncertainty over a possible second wave, of local lockdown restrictions, or about returning to school or work.
Or it may relate to health, jobs, family or relationships – or even when we'll be able to give relatives a long-awaited hug.
Uncertainty is a topic that comes up a lot with clients in therapy, says our member Paul Mollitt.
“Even before Covid-19, helping people to tolerate uncertainty was one of my main roles as a therapist - be that the uncertainty in their families, relationships, careers or health.
“Coronavirus, in its complete disruption of our lives, has compounded and magnified our innate underlying fears of not been in control that are usually kept in check by our usual daily routines” he adds.
This uncertainty can affect how we feel in a variety of different ways.
“Uncertainty can create anxiety, anger, sadness and feelings of not being in control,” says our member Katerina Georgiou.
“This will usually be felt in the body some way, and so we either start doing things to try and alleviate the tension, or our minds go into overdrive with 'what if' scenarios, or shutting off and feeling numb.
“We might start picturing worst case scenarios, fixating on things like health or food, or might feel unable to go out,” she adds.
If you’re struggling with the impact of uncertainty on your life and your mental health at the moment, our members have suggested some helpful tips and coping strategies
Acknowledge how you are feeling
“Allow the time and space to really experience how you are feeling,” says Melissa Noyce.
Katerina adds: “Acknowledge how you're feeling and noticing what's happening to you.
“Are you losing or gaining sleep or weight, are you eating differently, do you feel tired, anxious, restless, on edge? You won't be alone.
“Pay attention to where in your body these things are having an impact on you and be aware of what it is you need right now.”
Deone Payne-James adds: “Worrying and second guessing can be a way of trying to control uncertainty and avoid difficult emotions such as fear. Instead, allowing yourself to face and express your emotions can alleviate stress and bring a sense of peace in these uncertain times.”
Focus on the present
“When the uncertainty seems overwhelming, take a few deep breaths and focus practically on the present, engaging in something relaxing or rewarding that is within your control,” adds Deone.
“This can be anything from listening to music, doing a fitness activity or chatting and laughing with a friend,” she adds.
Remember the basics of looking after yourself
Lindsay George says it’s good to focus on the four fundamentals – food, sleep, exercise and what gives you structure, ie work, school or volunteering.
This includes looking after yourself by making sure you’re eating nutritious food, getting a good night sleep or going for some exercise and not being too sedentary.
“If you can get two out of four fundamentals – that’s a win. Three or four and that’s amazing. It’s about taking the small wins, rather than the bigger tasks or huge leaps,” she says.
Focus on what you can control
Think about the things you can control, rather than what you can’t control.
“This could just be small things in your routine in the morning,” says Lindsay.
“I like to start the day with a hot water and lemon, other people might look forward to their morning cup of coffee. Routine’s important and having things like this that you can control within your routine help set you up for the day.”
If you’re trying to control the uncontrollable then this is a waste of your time and effort and can be exhausting.
Set some goals
“Goal setting during this time is really important,” says Paul.
“Goals often can, and should, change, but the very practice of setting goals can be hugely beneficial when dealing with uncertainty.
“Think about what you want your future to look like and what steps do you need to take to get there. For example, some clients are taking advantage of online courses that will improve their careers or others thinking of having a family are overhauling their diet and exercise regime.”
Try to find fun and connection
Katrina adds: “If you're seeking company but feeling rather alone, try to find fun and connection in any way you can: that could mean a podcast, a box set, a telephone call, a walk outside around people and nature, whichever feels most supportive to you at this time. If you have a busy household with/without children and no time to yourself, take the small moments like having a shower or making a meal to notice your surroundings and ground yourself: what can you smell, feel, hear, taste and touch?"
“My clients have discovered varied ways to get through this time such as writing, exercise, gardening, cooking, studying - and actives that enable you to become absorbed in can be particularly helpful,” says Paul.
Paul adds that he often recommends that clients try meditation, particularly mindfulness.
He says: “Rather than trying to always avoid stress or anxiety, mindfulness encourages you to be more present to your thoughts and feelings, as well as your body, in a curious and non-judgemental way. This could be a formal meditation using apps such as Headspace or reminding yourself to be present in your daily routines, such as eating or walking.”
“It may be obvious, but self-compassion is vital,” adds Paul.
“I’m always surprised just how hard people can be on themselves: ‘I should be doing this’, ‘I’ve wasted this time’ ‘I’m so lazy’, all of which are unhelpful and unnecessary. Changing a ’should’ to a ‘could’ is useful here - ‘I could improve my fitness’ rather than ‘I should improve my fitness’. Language is important, particularly when talking to ourselves.”
Limit your news intake
“I encourage clients who are anxious to avoid 24-hour news as it can become addictive, a kind of rumination, and limit news to the headlines from one trusted news source once per day,” adds Paul.
Remember you’re not alone
You’re not the only one feeling this way – and in fact if you open up to friends and family about how you’re feeling, you may discover they share the same feelings too.
Deone says it can be helpful to remind yourself of this.
“Acknowledge that this is a global issue and we’re not alone in this,” she says. “We are all facing uncertainty which can be a reassuring mindset.”
Open up about how you’re feeling
“Talking to someone you can trust, can be the first step into accepting what is happening,” says Melissa.
Speaking to a professional counsellor or psychotherapist can “provide a safe, consistent space that can become part of a routine of looking after yourself,” says Paul.
“Many of my new clients have actually started therapy during lockdown - it was one of those things they knew they wanted to do but kept putting it off as the time was never right,” he adds.
Paul concludes: “One final point is that this whole experience of uncertainty and finding ways to survive it will improve resilience for future difficulties. We can’t all thrive in these circumstances, but we can survive and recover, which is hugely therapeutic.”
Find a counsellor or psychotherapists who can help you cope with uncertainty with our Therapist Directory.
What therapy can help with
An A-Z list of issues and concerns which may be helped by talking to a counsellor.
How to get therapy
Where, when and how you can get access to counselling and psychotherapy.
Coronavirus: Advice for the public
Advice on seeing a therapist during the pandemic, plus tips, advice and coping strategies from our members to help you through these uncertain times