Coping with Uncertainty

In these uncertain times, we want to know things will be okay. Our human tendency is to want guaranteed outcomes. It is in times like these that we begin to realize, in a profound and unsettling way, that there are things in this life we do not control. For some of us, the thought of not being in control is profoundly disturbing, even paralyzing. It is important to know that there are things we can do to help ourselves get centered and calm ourselves when the future is unknown.

  1. Remind yourself of your value. The first thing you can do is to remind yourself that you are a human being of immeasurable worth. So often, we look to our circumstances to steady our sense of security- our financial portfolio, our health, our standing with our friendships or community. If you are a person of faith, you can affirm your identity as a beautiful child of God. Regardless of the ups and downs of life, regardless of dangers or illness or monetary status, you are securely and lavishly loved.
  1. Acknowledge what is hard. It is usually not helpful to try to push awareness away. Allow yourself to register that we are in a very difficult season with costly and, at times, deadly outcomes.

This is not to say that you need to expose yourself to constantly viewing the news. Nor am I suggesting that distractions or focusing on the positive demonstrations of compassion and the buoyant human spirit aren’t helpful. They definitely are. To acknowledge what is hard is to face the reality that this isn’t something we can individually fix. We can certainly do our part to shelter-in-place in order to protect ourselves and others from the spread of the virus. But we cannot control it. And that is hard.

  1. Shift from control to choice. When we are highly anxious we tend to try to control. When we try to control things that are uncontrollable and we discover we aren’t able to do so, we get more anxious. It’s a vicious cycle.

If, instead, we choose to focus on what we do have control over, we can feel more at peace. What do you have control over?

  • You can do your best to follow the protocols suggested- to wash your hands, to avoid touching your face, to shelter-in-place, to sanitize surfaces or packaging that arrives at your door, etc.
  • You can remind yourself that you can do your best but you can’t fix this present situation. It is bigger than you.
  • You can ask yourself, “Who do I want to be in this situation?” Do I want to be a fearful and stressed person, or do I want to bring my more compassionate, wise and resourceful self to this crisis?
  • Often when we’re anxious and fearful we become quite self-focused. The best antidote for this is to choose to serve others, to be generous and compassionate. I have a friend who is a “doer.” Even when she’s not coping with a stressful situation, she likes to accomplish something. In this crisis, she has volunteered to sew protective covers for N-95 masks so they can be worn for a longer period of time by health workers. She has connected with an organization that provides the material and collects the masks for a doctor who distributes them. She has chosen to use her need to “do” to serve the needs of others.

I’ve been so amazed by the way in which people have retooled their resources to help during this coronavirus pandemic. Car manufacturers are repurposing their production lines to make ventilators. Hotels are reconfiguring to house doctors, nurses and other health workers that are responding to the crisis. The Sophy Hyde Park Hotel in Chicago is offering— free of charge — housing to the University of Chicago Medical Center staff who are caring for the sick at a nearby hospital. Artists and authors are offering free online classes and consultations to children who are learning from home.

Who needs help in your community? Is there a senior in your neighborhood you could offer to grocery shop for? Do you have a single friend or family member that is weathering this shelter-in-place alone? Could you commit to FaceTime them once a week to encourage them? Can you make a large sign with bold letters that says “Thank you for your service and your courage” and put it up near a local hospital to offer your gratitude for the health workers, nurses, and doctors that are putting themselves at risk every day to care for the sick?

You can choose compassion. You have gifts, an uplifting word, a smile, an encouragement that only you can give. The people around you need it. Offer it generously.

  1. Look to the things that never change.

Though so much has changed in the past few weeks and the future ahead is quite uncertain for most of us, you can choose to focus your attention on the things that never change.

What can you look to?

  • My husband and I were out walking yesterday and I noticed a beautiful vine beginning to bud. Nature is full of reminders, not only that spring is predictably coming, but that there is constancy in the created order of things. Waves break on the shore, winds blow, rain falls, forests rejuvenate after a fire. The poppies are springing up and the wildflowers are blooming everywhere. Go out and enjoy these evidences of certainty.
  • God’s goodness. In the midst of this pandemic, you might be asking yourself, “Where is God in this?” or “If God exists, how could he let that happen?” Both questions are worthy but would require a lengthy theological discussion which wouldn’t fit in this blog. What we can know from the Bible is that God loves each of us (John 3:16), He is with us at all times and in all situations (Isaiah 41:10) and he is good (Psalm 145:9). We can go to the bank on that. We can’t wrap our arms around everything about this epidemic, but we can know our good God is with us in this difficult time. If we lean into the truth of that, we can rest and know- that will never change. We can surrender our need to control, knowing we rest in the hands of a loving and present God. 

What has helped you the most in your times of anxiety? Please comment below.

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