Long COVID Self-Management - Coping with Uncertainty
Dealing with Uncertainty
Often, we have little control when big life changes occur. It can be very upsetting to experience an illness, such as COVID-19. Illness itself can make one feel as though they lack control, which can leave people feeling unsafe and anxious. COVID-19 is hard because there are many unanswered questions about the recovery process and what to expect.
As humans, we like to gather all the information so we can try to predict what might happen and put our energy where it can serve us best. When we are missing information, it doesn’t feel good and can make us feel anxious. What information are you missing? (e.g., when will you have more energy? When can you return to work?)
Often, we try to cope with this uncertainty by seeking out more information. Gathering information and problem solving is an effective way to manage anxiety about things that are within our control.
But what about those things that are outside of our control? What if the information is not available?
When we try to gather information and problem solve issues that are currently beyond our control and/or where the information is not available, we end up putting a lot of effort into trying to imagine and plan for all possibilities. Our mind is constantly trying to fix a problem that we do not have enough information to fix. This takes a lot of energy and can be very tiring! This can create more anxiety by causing us to consider catastrophic or worst-case situations. It also can make us feel ineffective, which can negatively impact our self-esteem and mood.
Coping with Uncertainty and Lack of Control
Here are some tips that could be useful to consider when dealing with uncertainty.
Recognize that it is impossible to control everything, and some things may be beyond your control. Some people are better at putting up with uncertainty than others. Try not to be hard on yourself. Tell yourself how hard it is and remind yourself that this feeling is normal.
Focus on What is Within Your Control
This will help you to feel empowered.
Build Routine and Predictability into Your Day
What time do you want to wake up each day? What do you want to eat? How can you include healthy habits (e.g., exercising, relaxing) into your day? Work within your current limits and create a routine that helps you feel like you are achieving progress.
Engage in Activities that “Fill Your Tank”
Ongoing stress drains our coping resources. During stressful times, it is particularly important to spend time engaging in activities that “refill your tank”. Give yourself the fuel you need to get through the day with nourishing activities. Take a walk outside, connect safely with friends or family, meditate, or have a bath. Try something creative – sing, knit, draw, or write. It may not always feel possible to add these activities into already busy days. In this case, stack your activities (e.g., listen to music as you commute to work, call someone on a walk).
Spend Time Each Day Reflecting on What Brought You Joy or What You are Grateful for
Even in – and perhaps especially in – difficult moments of life there are opportunities for joy. Allow joy to exist beside your challenges. Even small moments of joy are worth remembering and help to boost mood. What did you enjoy today? The sunshine streaming through your window? The sound of a loved one’s voice? The feeling of a hot cup of tea in your hands?
Exercise within your limits.
- Although it is important to be an active participant in your health care, focusing only on your recovery from COVID-19 can negatively impact mood and increase anxiety. Similarly, trying to problem solve issues that are currently outside of our control can be unhelpful and exhausting! Limit the amount of time you spend focusing on those things currently beyond your control, and engage in an unrelated activity, solely for enjoyment or relaxation.
- Similarly, it can be hard to take a break from the taking in information about COVID-19. It is always on the news and, understandably, many people are talking about it. Reflect on when taking information in has been helpful versus unhelpful. You are in control of how much time you spend engaged in conversations about COVID-19 or gathering information.
- Schedule worry time. Decrease the amount of time you spend worrying by controlling when and how long you worry. Schedule worry time for 15-30 minutes once per week or each day. Try not to schedule it for right before bedtime. During worry time, write down all the worries you can think of. Outside of worry time, try to tell yourself to not focus on the worries until the next scheduled worry time. This frees up your mind to focus on other things so worry does not derail your day.
Uncertainty does not mean worst-case situation. ALL situations are possible. Keep your negative thoughts in check by generating alternatives!