How to Deal With the Anxiety of Uncertainty
If there's one defining feature of the coronavirus pandemic， it's uncertainty. Will there be a vaccine？ When can schools safely reopen？ Will I still have a job next week？ Should I book a spring vacation abroad？ A crisis that we'd all hoped would be short-lived is dragging on indefinitely， and the list of unanswered questions keeps growing.
“I've started thinking about our current situation as being marked by two pandemics，” Kate Sweeny says. “The viral one， of course， but also a psychological pandemic of uncertainty.” A professor of psychology at the University of California， Riverside， Sweeny specializes in understanding how people cope with ambiguity. All her research points towards one conclusion: We don't cope very well.
Uncertainty leaves us scrambling to regain an element of control—by hoarding toilet paper， for example. Ironically， while actions like these might provide temporary relief， they can have the opposite effect in the long term， sending our anxiety levels through the roof.
So if stockpiling a year's supply of toilet paper isn't going to ease the anxiety that comes with living in a state of limbo， what will？ Here are some of the coping mechanisms they've found can help.
Stop With the Mental Time Travel
When you're dealing with uncertain situations， it's tempting to both fixate on things you've done in the past—could last week's trip to the grocery store be to blame for my sore throat today—and worry about what the future will look like. Dwelling excessively on what could have been and what might be—ruminating， to use the technical term—is exhausting， and unless it is brought under control， can trigger depression and anxiety.
To stop the spiral， Sweeny recommends learning how to focus on the present by using an age-old technique: mindfulness.
You don't need any expensive equipment or devices to start practicing mindfulness. “For example， you can eat in a mindful way， focusing on every movement， taste， smell， and sound.”
Binge-Watch Your Favorite Childhood Show
While you don't want to waste time worrying about the past， taking a little trip down memory lane can do wonders for your mental health during periods of uncertainty.
It doesn't have to be food. Anything nostalgic that reminds you of a time when you felt secure can help offset the anxiety that comes with so much unknown. If you're worried about your waistline， try binge-watching your favorite show from when you were a kid.
Play a Video Game
If video games aren't your thing， plenty of other activities will do， from gardening to painting. The trick is to find something that's not so easy you'll get bored and not so mentally taxing that you'll struggle to concentrate.
Find a New Rhythm
So many people have lost so much during the pandemic—jobs， houses， loved ones—that it feels frivolous to be missing smaller things， like the bagel you used to buy every morning on your way to the office， or the bar you went to for happy hour on Fridays. But as trivial as these things might seem， they helped create the sense of stability and predictability we need to function.
To help alleviate the anxiety we feel when we lose this rhythm， Mark Freeston， a professor of clinical psychology at Newcastle University in the UK recommends building a new one. “You have to make sure you're creating enough safety signals for yourself.”
Play Around the Edges
As much as we might like to， we can't stay cooped up in our apartments eating comfort food and watching Beauty and the Beast forever.
Freeston recommends starting out small. “Once you've found those things that help you regain a sense of safety， start building in some elements of flexibility，” he advises. “So you can still watch movies from when you were a kid， but maybe ask your roommate to pick from a selection， so you don't know which one it will be.” Once you're comfortable with that level of uncertainty， you can add in more.