It’s that time of year again. Summer is winding down; the kids are headed back to school…and COVID uncertainty is looming. It’s just days shy of the start of the new school year and many districts haven’t yet solidified if they will hold classes in-person or virtually or whether students will be required to wear masks or not. All the while your employer’s back to the office plan has shifted from 2022 to 2021. And back again to 2022. Or not.
If the uncertainty is keeping your nervous system in a state of high alert, you are not alone. A 2016 study (Berker et al) showed that uncertainty was even more stressful than knowing something bad is definitely going to happen.
In other words, no matter what is actually happening right before you in the moment, uncertainty can make you feel anxious, thereby activating your nervous system and signaling that you are in danger right this very second and that you need to do something about it immediately to keep yourself safe! All the while, you could be sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the morning news headlines.
“Anxiety is the disorder of ‘what if.’
The elixir is living in ‘what is.’”
-Dr. Margo Jacquot, Founder and Chief Care Officer, The Juniper Center
“The only sure thing is what we know right now,” says Dr. Jacquot. And while the current situation may feel different, life has always been this way. “The solution is to ground yourself in the present as much as possible.”
How do you stay in the here and now?
If you are starting to feel overwhelmed by “what if’s” start by asking yourself these questions:
What do you know for sure?
Challenge your thoughts by considering alternative perspectives and weigh all available evidence. What do you know today? Maybe you will need to go back into an office in the fall. Maybe there will be lots of people there. But what is happening right now in this moment?
What is within your power?
Channel your energy into aspects of your life that you can control. You can control your own safety habits, such as social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing. You can’t fully control whether others will make the same choice. You can let your preferences be known to the powers that be, but you can’t know how the government, school district or an employer will respond in the future. You can only control your own actions, in the present.
Is it real or speculation?
Remember the “olden days” of journalism that was based on “just the facts”? Even the news is full of speculation. Think of a news story about an overnight fire at a warehouse, where no one was hurt. To make the story more exciting, the reporter might say, “If that fire happened during the day, dozens of workers could have been hurt.” It’s on the news, so it must be true! But it didn’t happen. “Could happen” is not the same as “did happen.”
Practice being in the Present
“We just cannot even guess what will happen next,” says Dr. Jacquot. “That state of not knowing can create an added layer of stress for most people.” Now is the time to practice sitting with ourselves, being conscious of our breathing and hyper-aware of where we are in this exact moment in space and time. Cycle through your five senses to heighten your awareness of what is happening right around you. Feel the calming power of getting comfortable in the space of knowing what you know right now.
And if you are feeling overwhelmed or could use help, please contact us. You don’t have to struggle alone.