Dealing with the Potentially Crippling Stress of the Unknown
What’s the worst part of the challenges we anticipate in life? Often, it comes down to grappling with the unknown. Sometimes, what we most fear does happen. Many other times, however, our worries deliver a thousand paper cuts or worse.
Now, for a time, our nation (and world) is faced with huge and intimidating unknowns. And not one of the more than seven billion inhabitants of Earth can say for sure what will happen.
Even if someone could predict the overall impact of the current health and economic burdens, they certainly couldn’t say how they’d affect each individual involved, which may be what we worry most about. This can lead to crippling fear, anxiety, worry and even panic. So, what should we do during times like this? Here are a few thoughts.
Acknowledge that It’s OK if You’re Struggling Right Now
There’s a lot of pressure in our culture to just put on your game face and power through obstacles. But much of the strongest among us are struggling to do that right now.
- Have a health condition that puts you at greater medical risk
- Worry about loved ones
- Wonder if you’ll recover from the virus
- Be grieving for someone lost to the epidemic
- Be terrified of your finances becoming ruined
- Feel angry, depressed, plagued by anxiety or confused
- Find it difficult to complete everyday tasks
- Be plagued by constantly restless sleep
- Feel unable to tear yourself from news stories
- And much more
If things have been tough for you, the first step is to acknowledge that you don’t feel OK at the moment. Its OK to do so. The denial of unprecedented worldwide suffering and its many associated human unknowns won’t help you or others right now.
This is a time to be transparent with yourself and others about how you’re feeling. To honestly admit these are scary times. To acknowledge these uncertainties doesn’t make you weak. And it allows you to take further steps to handle these unique challenges better.
Focus on What You Can Control
Focusing on what you can control hopefully gives a sense of calm. You can’t make all of this mysteriously go away. But there’s still a lot you can do.
Even before the Coronavirus, much of what we thought we could control wasn’t always what we could actually control. Make peace with what you can’t change and then do what you can with what you can influence.
This could be as simple as limiting your news intake to prevent mental paralysis. It also may mean keeping a schedule, getting good sleep, doing what work you can and exercising even if it feels pointless or insignificant at times. This also involves staying focused on the present instead of the ruminating on unknowns.
Regarding living in the present, the Nature Reviews on Neuroscience shares the following:
“A simpler strategy involves encouraging patients to spend less time worrying about what might come, and instead to focus on life in the present. Complete absorption in the present moment obviates anxiety about the future.” While this might sound hard, hard can be good. And if not now, then when. So much of our daily life is harder right now. Allowing that truth to be as it is, can be freeing, even if we can only tolerate smaller doses of it.
Relieve the Suffering of Others
We all suffer in many ways throughout life. The unknowns and uncertainties of life exist for everyone. As humans, struggles are unavoidable. And even though none of us want to experience hard times, these are often the circumstances that allow us to notice and heal others’ hurts.
So, one big way you can deal with the stress of the unknown is to help others bear that same burden. It could mean writing a thank-you note to someone on the front lines of the epidemic, volunteering, contributing financially or just being more patient with your family, friends or co-workers. I provide a monthly support group to palliative care doctors and social workers. I have also volunteered with Support Group for Nurses to help support our nurses on the front lines. This sort of “extra work” gives me meaning and helps me know that I’m doing what I can. That gives me peace in this time of so much uncertainty.
Focusing on others’ concerns can be a great way not to focus on your own. Caring for others and loving them is what life is all about anyway. One ironic and robust blessing that may arise from these unavoidable events is that they may help us focus more fully on what matters most in life.
Look for the Good
Really, it’s there. Maybe you’ve had more time with your family than you’ve had for years. Perhaps you’re able to focus on your spiritual health or think about a potential career pivot too.
In the most difficult life events, some good always results. Try going on a mental scavenger hunt to notice the good. Doing so isn’t meant to ignore the bad or downright worrisome. Rather, it can provide a more balanced perspective during tough times.
Admit When You Need Help
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help either. That could mean picking up the phone to talk to a family member or friend when you feel scared, anxious or sad. It also could involve reaching out to a trusted professional.
At the Center for Neurocognitive Excellence, we combine our caring, compassionate goal to serve our community with the necessary training to ensure you experience the best possible outcome.
Are you struggling right now? At the moment, we’d be more surprised if you weren’t in some way. But the stress of the unknown doesn’t have to paralyze or control your life. Regardless of how tough things get, we’re here for you. Feel free to reach out to us for an appointment.