The COVID-19 pandemic may be a shared experience for all of us but for many, the uncertainties of the present can be more stressful than the actual outcomes themselves. Will our daily lives go back to how they were before? Will we reunite with our loved ones that are residing overseas? When can we finally plan a holiday abroad? These are just some of the questions on our minds as we try to adapt to our new reality. Feeling momentarily stuck without the option to plan ahead can trigger our physiological state of stress. Now more than ever, the only certainty is uncertainty. While some of us thrive these uncertain times, others find themselves emotionally paralyzed. We are not used to living in situations with rapidly-changing possibilities by the day. The world at present remains wildly unpredictable and the way we respond to it ultimately depends on how afraid we are of the unknown. Such fear of the unknown is mainly caused by feelings of lack of predictability and control.1
Stress is a normal reaction to many situations. Unfortunately, during the current times of crisis and extreme uncertainty, we may feel like we are not ourselves. Uncertainty about the future makes us less capable of coping and therefore hampers us from taking effective and efficient steps of reaction. This response is known as a maladaptation of the intrinsic capability of the human mind to predict the future. Research has also shown that such anxiety-related stress is separate from fear.2 When we are faced with an adverse situation, fear is the usual reaction as it presents itself during perceived flight or fight scenarios, but when the situation dreaded is in the uncertain future, the observed result is anxiety. Fear is generally short-lived and takes place in response to a definite threat, while anxiety produces a sustained response to an uncertain and unpredictable threat.3 The consequences of anxiety be damaging on your physical health including symptoms of:4
- Panic Attacks
- Feelings of Irritability
- Heart Palpitations
- Rapid and Shallow Breathing
- Loss of Libido
- Upset Stomach
- Extreme Fatigue
- Increase Blood Pressure
- Muscle Aches and Other Pains
Stress management has now become even more vital for us in order to cope. There is a need, now more than ever, to apply coping skills for minimizing the long-term consequences that would affect us from prolonged stress. Resilience lies in being able to understand that the current situation will not be this way for long, and that we can do something to ensure that our mental and physical health is our utmost priority. Here are some tips for coping with uncertainty:5
- Talk about it: By talking with others about how you are feeling, this will allow you to relieve stress and realize that others share your experience and feelings.
- Spend time with your loved ones: They form your emotional backbone and can help you through this tough time. As we live in a digitalised world, stay connected by phone if possible should they not be living in close proximity.
- Take care of yourself: We hear this often but easily forget about applying this to our daily routine. Get plenty of rest and include activities such as exercise into your daily routine if possible.
- Complete one task at a time: Break down bigger goals into smaller tasks. Complete each smaller task before moving on to the next one. By completing each task in this manner, you will avoid feeling overwhelmed, yet achieve a sense of accomplishment from moving towards your goals.
- Ask for help if you need it: If being stressed out is making it tough to perform your daily life, it is best not to go through it alone and instead talk to a professional therapist or join a support group. Always remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
The threat of illness is very real, especially today, and there is no telling how the future will look like. To manage the fear and anxiety that can affect our daily lives, what we can do now is to identify the areas that are within our control, make a step-by-step action plan and practice mindful living. A healthy lifestyle will form an essential foundation to give us the strength that is necessary to thrive in the midst of uncertainty.
- Understanding and Overcoming Fear of the Unknown https://www.healthline.com/health/understanding-and-overcoming-fear-of-the-unknown
- Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276319/
- Why can Uncertainty Cause Stress? https://www.news-medical.net/health/Why-can-Uncertainty-Cause-Stress.aspx
- Effects of Anxiety on the Body https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/effects-on-body
- Living in Uncertain Times: Coping With a New “Normal” https://centerstone.org/our-resources/health-wellness/living-in-uncertain-times-coping-with-a-new-normal/