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Coping with uncertainty

Once again, we are all living with a huge amount of uncertainty. After nearly two years of changing restrictions and recommendations it feels harder than ever to know what is for the best, and what will happen next. Considering that this is also one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year anyway, both personally and professionally, it’s no surprise that many of us are feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

Uncertainty is exhausting. When faced with ambiguity we often feel deeply unsettled, and the lack of clarity can make it difficult to focus. When there are numerous decisions to be made and it feels as if we don’t have enough information to make them, we can feel disproportionally worried and struggle to see a way forward.

While we can’t change the broader picture, I wanted to share a few tips that might help you feel more equipped to cope in the coming weeks.

Focus on the things you can control

When you are feeling anxious, it is really helpful to take time to identify and name your worries and fears. You can then start separating these into those that you can control or influence and those that you can’t. As much as you can, try to focus on the former.

Whatever your view on the government’s approach to Covid, there is little you can do to shift it. What you can control is your own response. You can decide how much or little you want to change your plans, and you can control what happens within your own home and family.

You can apply this rule to smaller issues too. You can’t control what happens to your industry in general, but you can do the best you can in your own role.

Think about what you're trying to achieve rather than how

“Write your goal in pen but your plan in pencil.” I often give this advice to teams working in ever-changing environments, but it can be applied to your personal life too.

What is the purpose of the plans you have? What is the most important thing to achieve? Once you’re clear on that, it can be easier to change plans or make decisions as you have something to steer you.

If the most important thing is giving your children a magical Christmas, then how can you do that within your own level of comfort? At work, if you need to cancel a planned event, think about how you can achieve its objectives another way. Instead of meeting your friends for drinks, could you schedule a phone or online catch up instead to get that much needed social interaction?

Take one thing at a time

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is take one thing at a time. Human beings are incapable of really multitasking (we’re just letting ourselves be distracted over and over), so give yourself permission to focus. Break down your to-do list into the next “actionable action” for each project or task. Then work your way through them one by one.

Some things may not have a next actionable action. Maybe you’re waiting on a family member to confirm their plans, or for a colleague to deliver something. Acknowledge that there is nothing you can do right now but wait. That’s OK, too.

Use your support network

These are tough times for everyone, so there no need to pretend you’re coping better than anyone else. Find a safe space where you can be honest about how you’re feeling and vent if you need to. Share your concerns with people you trust and whose opinion you value.

Whether it’s your partner, your friends or supportive colleagues, it can be really helpful just to be able to say “I’m finding this tough” and to hear someone else say “me too.” Humans are social beings so cultivating those feelings of belonging will help you feel safer.

Make sure you take time out (step away from the news!)

Dealing with uncertainty requires resilience and resilience requires emotional energy. If your supplies are running low you need to take time to charge up your battery.

Step away from the newsfeeds and the emails and the lists of presents to buy, and let your brain have some down time. This can be whatever works for you – a favourite TV programme, an escapist novel or a long run. The important thing is that you spend some time looking after yourself and recharging.

I hope these help – please let me know if so.

If you'd like regular reflections from me, you can subscribe to my enews.

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