Coping with Uncertainty
I had the good fortune to join the recent webinar from Natural Direction's Martin Coburn which focused on ‘how to cope with uncertainty, stay focused and take back control’. Here are a few take-aways that I found particularly useful along with a few additional thoughts from our own experience.
First and foremost, getting perspective is particularly important. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”! We’ve all seen various Facebook posts talking about how our grandparents and great grandparents were asked to go to war whereas all we’re being asked to do is stay at home. That’s not to belittle the challenge we’re all facing, but putting it into context is important and can be very powerful.
Secondly, as I’ve said on a previous blog, the link between physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing is real: the two are inextricably linked. Therefore it follows that we need to look after both our physical and mental wellbeing in times like this.
Clearly there are levels here. The techniques contained herein focus on states of worry and heightened worry and finding ways to work with that worry rather than against it. However, if you are experiencing anxiety or extreme anxiety we would recommend that you contact an experienced coach, therapist or counsellor.
Coping with uncertainty
In these unprecedented and uncertain times, many of us will find ourselves worrying more than usual. It is important that each of us recognises this because, if left unattended, worry can lower your immune system. The good news is that worrying is completely natural and has good intentions: to protect you. It is the body’s natural reaction to a threat. The even better news is that we can work with it rather than let it take over and debilitate us.
The first step is to acknowledge the worry: recognise that you’re worrying. Then, identify the source - where has that worry come from? What’s the source? Then, once you’ve identified it and pinpointed the source, you can act on it. That may take a number of forms - you may wish to ‘turn down the volume’ on that particular source; you may choose to find out more information about it to gain a better understanding (rather than the shock-and-awe headlines that we see plastered all over social media); you may turn to a friend or colleague for advice or context; you may reframe the question in a more positive light - rather that ‘what if this happens', ask 'what if it doesn’t’?
A great way to reduce worry / anxiety is to focus. Our brains crave certainty so in this new world of uncertainty, the trick is to give your brain something to be certain about.
In other words, accept the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can control. And in that focus, may you be granted with ‘the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference’.
Dr Stephen Covey talked about three circles: the circle of concern, the circle of influence and the circle of control. So what are those things you can control? Your attitude and enthusiasm, your working environment, what you read, your thoughts, your actions, your routine, your reactions, how you behave, what you eat, how you spend your time, what you believe, how you feel.
There are some simple techniques that can help to give control: ensure you have a clear and achievable ‘to do’ list, set goals and link your ‘to do’ list to the achievement of those goals, create and stick to routines, give yourself rewards (make them healthy), take regular breaks, do the next most important thing first.
However, some are more challenging. Indeed, to some of you reading this, some of those will be a surprise! "I can’t control my thoughts!” or “You made me feel like that!”. The reality is that we can understand our thoughts and change the way we speak to ourselves. More on that in a future blog!
You’ll have seen plenty of ‘hints and tips’ on social media about how to thrive or survive: the basis for many of these is to give discipline and therefore focus so that certainty is increased and focus is achieved. Experiment with some and see what works best for you!
Take back control
In many ways, a healthy mind is similar to a healthy body - put good things in and you’ll reap the benefits; fill it with rubbish and you’ll soon get bogged down! Be mindful fo the images, words, conversations and social media posts you are consuming because what you are consuming affects how you are feeling. Are you just watching the news and reading all the bad news about death rates and infection rates? It’s fine to consume some of that, indeed you have a duty to keep informed. However, be sure to balance that with positivity and the good that is still happening. How are you helping others in your community? Read about other positive stories of those who survived. For me, listening to Chris Evans in the morning works - he’s super positive and puts a spring in my step.
You can also change your own physiology to help change how you feel - try this: please sit how you would sit if you were ‘bored and tired’. Now sit how you would sit if you were ‘energised and confident’? Did you move? I bet you did! That’s because your physiology is linked to how you feel. So you can make yourself feel better by changing your sitting position!
There is also a great deal of evidence about the benefits of exercise - yes, there is a reason the Government is allowing exercise each day - it’s vital to both physical and mental wellbeing. So do what you can to release endorphins into the blood stream by exercising.
Finally, stay connected. Those virtual meet-ups with friends are really important to release serotonin which elevates our mood. Make sure you schedule those connections as if they were a meeting/appointment and have a goal to connect with a number of people each week.
There are lots of resources available to help in these challenging times. The key is to seek out the positive and focus on that to help you find what works best for you. If you need additional help and support, our trained coaches and counsellors are just a phone call away.
Take care of yourselves. Stay home. Save Lives. Protect the NHS.