The Covid19 pandemic had brought most of us to a standstill. Despite entering Phase 1 of easing of Singapore’s circuit-breaker measures, our movements are still limited, our choices as well. “What’s next” looms in our minds as we collectively wait with bated breath for Phase 2 in Singapore. We are also waiting for news from other nations that have begun to open their economies, especially those that opened despite the numbers of cases.
We yearn for news that the spread of the virus can be contained, that life can go back to what it used to be like, although deep inside we are no longer sure what normal can be like.
We are still going through a crisis. There are people sick in hospitals all over the world, fighting for their lives. There are people mourning the loss of loved ones. Numerous have lost jobs. There is much chaos now with the ongoing sometimes violent protests in the US; there is an uprising calling for anti-racism and calling out law enforcers. People are gathering in huge numbers (for an important cause that I wholeheartedly support: anti-racism!) and we can’t be sure how the Covid19 crisis could be exacerbated on top of this huge movement.
Some of us could be feeling overwhelmed and want to run and hide but have nowhere to go. Some of our relationships are falling apart with the tension built up during these difficult times. Some of us are inconvenienced but “life still goes on”. Numerous are working harder than before. Some wonder if they would be left behind when gears shift. Most of us are in limbo, waiting.
There are so many different narratives. I am not able to address all of them (my friend is also sick of reading my long preambles) but I think I’m using my writing to help me to hold in regard the varied realities experienced by different people. Because the human experience gives me inspiration. Also, writing here helps me to express and hopefully demonstrate that I see us, and I see a diversity in experiences.
At the end of the day, what counts for you and me the most, is ultimately our own realities, our own bubbles. How we have been impacted and how our lives will be like when we transition. Certainly, I care enough about others and wish others would care about other people too (hence my long preambles to highlight differences in realities rather than cutting to the chase). But I can only do so much in addressing our pain points and share general tips from my own experiences that I hope can help alleviate your difficulties.
This post is focused on 7 tips we could adopt to manage uncertainty in a whirling world. I think these steps can be applied to most situations, whether you are waiting for Phase 2, or waiting to see how a new business can kick off, or whether you are waiting for a verdict, results or decisions made by others. These steps helped me when I quit my job. I dived deep into the unknown, embraced uncertainty and made friends with it.
1) Have an anchor.
Our values, our purpose, our faith can help us stay grounded when we are moving. Let what is within us anchor us.
Most of us are able to deal with uncertainty but when the parameters within which we operate are challenged, we are understandably shook.
In a world that is spiralling around me, I often check in with myself: “What do I stand for? What do I care about?”
Returning to my guiding principles and my mission help me stay grounded: I always take care of my safety, my health and my basic needs. I will do whatever is within my means to care for my family, my close friends and their safety, health and basic needs. I care about hope and creating hope. I have compassion for others.
These guiding principles also help me understand why I could be affected in any given situation, how I could be impacted and when I should be paying attention to self-care. They also guide me on prioritising my actions.
2) Expect change and be flexible.
When we anticipate change, we can better prepare for it – this is the emotional part where we can show ourselves compassion when we don’t know what would happen, but we know something would. We can also physically and mentally prepare ourselves for change by drawing up some plans.
I love structure and enjoy the satisfaction of going through my days as planned, especially my daily work schedule. But working from home with others mean that I could be interrupted, experience conflicting demands for my time. I have come to accept this and prepare myself for it: I focus on the things that must get done within the day and I am realistic about them. I created rules around when I can or absolutely cannot be interrupted – I accept interruption and it is reframed as having my loved ones around me.
3) Identify what we have and do not have control over.
Many decisions we are waiting to make now hinge on the policies adopted by the authorities. Our lives revolve around others too and there are just some things that we do not have control over. Take a moment and review what are the things you have control over in the uncertainty you are experiencing.
For example, I have control over writing this blog post and framing it in a way I hope helps. I have no control over whether you like it or not. I have control over seeking feedback on it, but I have no control over whether you would give me feedback.
4) Stay in the present.
While we need to learn from the past and plan for the future, notice where our energy is mostly at.
Our energy could be in the future when we are thinking these: e.g., What is going to happen? What am I going to do?
Our energy could be in the past: e.g., Why did I do that? Where did I go wrong?
When our thoughts are all over the place and they stir a lot of energy in the form of self-blame or anxiety, we may end up feeling overwhelmed and drained. We could mindfully and conscientiously bring our thoughts back to the present. When we can draw our thoughts to the present, we could focus our energy to act on things that are within our control.
Shawn Achor, a prominent figure in the positive psychology field advocates for us to move our mind from the position of helplessness to a position of empowerment by thinking about what we could do in the present moment: “What can we do today that can prepare us for tomorrow?” Or when bad things have happened, we could think about how we could prepare for the “next best alternative scenario.”
We may not know what to do, but being in the present gives us a chance to evaluate the situation and do what we can do.
So, it is important to do something, and help our bodies get out from the position of helplessness. Whether it is to write out your next course of action, or reach for the phone to call someone, or go for a walk. Moving and doing something could help you release the tension and stress that is building up too.
I avoid overthinking and worrying. I catch myself when I’m dwelling on things I cannot control. Rather than “dress-rehearsing tragedy” (Thank you Brene Brown for giving us words to express such tendencies!), I focus on the present and appreciate the simple joys. I generate peace by using my breath and focusing my mind on the here and now.
5) Take care of our body, mind, energy, soul and relationships.
When we are confronting uncertainty, a void of information, our brain may try to fill it up. Be mindful of what you feel as you deal with the discomfort of not knowing . Self-care is so important when we are in transition. When we are waiting, anticipating. What are some aspects of our lives we could have neglected? When our needs are met, we would feel more secure and ready to take on challenges.
You could refer to my blog post on some affordable self-care tips.
6) Link with others and build social connection.
Other than reaching out to our loved ones for help, to manage the stress of the uncertainty, we would want to be careful about how others could be impacting our experience with uncertainty. If we need to limit interactions with others because we have had enough of saying “I don’t know”, do it. This could also mean limiting our consumption of news in the current times. Our boundaries are important in protecting our peace.
We could also link up with others who could be in the same situation. When it is about survival, we perhaps can only look out for ourselves. But could we spare a thought for someone else, outside of our bubble?
When we build connection with others, we are sharing our humanity – we struggle, we are vulnerable, we feel – and we are also showing compassion for others.
Hence, this post.
7) Use humour.
I don’t know about you but humour helps me release my nervous energy. Re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, watching comedy performances online or funny animal clips help me cope when I’m emotional.
I hope this post helps in some way and that you could soon be able to lean into uncertainty and thrive. Remember that you don’t have to deal with uncertainty alone. A therapist can help you manage uncertainty or help you cope with anxiety. If you are unsure, just book a free consultation call and see whether I could help you or point you to resources within your community that can.
I found a pretty cute clip on Youtube that you could take a look.
American Psychological Association. (2019, Oct). The great unknown: 10 tips for dealing with the stress of uncertainty. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-uncertainty
Deschene, L. Retrieved from https://tinybuddha.com/blog/7-ways-to-deal-with-uncertainty/
Kecmanovic, J. (2019, Oct 42). 5 ways to manage your fear of uncertainty. [Blog post]. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/90421343/5-ways-to-manage-your-fear-of-uncertainty
Moskowitz, E. (2017, Dec 01). 5 ways to handle uncertainty. [Blog post]. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/5-ways-to-handle-uncertai_b_13326476