Worried About the Future? – How to Cope With COVID-19 Uncertainty

As humans, we love certainty. We like to know exactly how things will turn out and that nothing will go wrong. Unfortunately, now more than ever with COVID-19 many of us have lost our sense of certainty.

For many of us when things are uncertain we turn to worry, along with behaviours like excessively checking the numbers of COVID-19 cases or watching every update on the news. This worry can even lead us to behaviours like panic buying as we prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Uncertainty can also make us feel stuck and like we can’t take any action because we don’t know exactly how the situation will turn out. Which is problematic because taking positive action within a situation helps us feel better.

When we worry and imagine all the ways that something might play out, we may feel like we are attempting to predict life so that there are no surprises. But in reality, worrying makes us no more certain about what will happen and generally just leaves us feeling worse. One study showed that 85% of what we worry about actually never happens. This study also showed that where the situation we were worrying about does occur 79% of participants said they could handle it better than expected or that the difficulty taught them something worth learning.

There are some positive steps that we can follow to help our need for certainty:
  • 1. Recognise
    Firstly, it’s important to notice when you’re feeling restless and agitated by not knowing how things will turn out, or when you start to dwell on how horrible the ‘not knowing’ is. Or even noticing when you get the urge to buy more than usual or behave in a fearful way.

  • 2. Avoid responding to the urge
    Once you’ve noticed it, rather than giving in to worry and panic behaviours, try thinking to yourself ‘I’m noticing these feelings come up, which makes sense because it is an uncertain time right now’. Try to accept and sit with these feelings without acting on them.

  • 3. Let it go and bring yourself back to the present moment
    Remind yourself that it is impossible to be certain about anything in life and that’s okay. Ground yourself back in the present moment with a few deep breaths, take note of what you can see around you, what you can hear and what you can smell.

  • 4. Don’t beat yourself up
    If you notice your mind wandering back to worries about the future, just gently acknowledge it and try to return your thoughts back to the present.

  • 5. Dedicate time for worry
    If you find that worry is taking up a lot of headspace in your day a good strategy is to dedicate a certain period of time for it. When worries come up during the day you can briefly jot them down and then have a dedicated 10 minutes each day where you let yourself think about all the worries. In this time you don’t need to think about solutions or rationalise, but once the time is up take a few deep breaths and return to the present.
Wanting to have a crystal ball and know how everything will turn out is only natural in situations like this. Unfortunately, certainty is impossible in life and the best thing we can do is learn how to accept the uncertain so that we can manage our worry and carry on!

Leahy, R. L. The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You.