Managing COVID-19 uncertainty

words by Luke Jankie, Monday 18 October 2021

Words by TYF Psychologist Luke Jankie

This blog first appeared on Maccabiah

As a fundamental rule, humans crave stability. We generally find comfort in the things that are familiar to us and thrive in situations where we feel safe. Unfortunately for us though, we’ve been living in a perpetual state of uncertainty for the best part of the last 18 months. Usually when we’re faced with this type of challenge, we can make adjustments and eventually find a way to overcome it. But COVID-19 seems to be a different beast. The lack of control, coupled with frequent relapses and no real sign of any finish line make it a really dynamic opposition to compete against.

To think of this in terms of sports, I’m reminded of the comfort that comes with knowing what you’re up against. Athletes typically feel more settled when they know who their opponent is, or how much time is left in their game, or how many more efforts are required of them. This knowledge allows them to prepare both mentally and physically. Preparation has proved difficult with COVID-19. I liken it to attending that dreaded pre-season session, where the coach has got you running laps but hasn’t told you how many you need to do, or when you’ll be able to stop. It’s virtually impossible to pace yourself in that sort of exercises, because you have no clue how long you’ll be running for.

Uncertainty is a tricky opponent, there’s no denying that. But as with any other difficult matchup, there’s always something you can do to support your performance. Below are a few ideas/tips that might be helpful in supporting your response to uncertainty:

Stop overrating control

Control is something we all strive for, but often overestimate our ability to achieve. There are so many things that are out of our control in this world: the weather, the way others think about us, St. Kilda making the AFL finals in 2022 – the list is endless. As much as we may try, there are some things we just can’t control. This is why I like to emphasize the concept of ‘choice’. While we don’t necessarily have control over everything around us, we do have the opportunity to make choices that can help shape the direction that we move in.

Whether it be with the way we exercise, the people we connect with or even the clothes that we wear – we still have the power to make choices in our lives. No matter how big or small, take pride in the choices you can make and push the ball forward when you can.

Make a plan

As my grandfather always used to say ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’. While I do believe this is sound advice, current restrictions make it seem like planning for the future is borderline impossible. These days, future planning only seems to leave us with more heartache and extra logistics to manage, which can be really deflating. For anyone else currently trying to reschedule an AirBnB or flight booking, I feel your pain. As difficult as it may seem though, effective planning can still be a really powerful driver of momentum and accountability.

If long term planning is stressing you out, try adjusting the scope of your plans and focussing on shorter periods of time. As the sports cliché goes, take it day-by-day. Better yet, maybe even start by focusing on just the morning and build your day form there. Setting up realistic plans that you can properly actualize won’t cure the world of the virus, nor rid you of your loss and frustrations, but it can help you get on with things in the interim, and carry you through to be ready for the world when things do start to normalize again.

Take care with the news you consume

As Mark Twain once said (and more recently Denzel Washington on TikTok), ‘If you don’t read the news, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed’. A tricky predicament we find ourselves in. News is important. Now more than ever it’s critical to stay informed and to keep up to date with the latest advice from the experts. But these days, it seems hard to figure out who the true experts are. News coverage is now everywhere around us and unsurprisingly plays a really big role in guiding the way that we think and feel. If all we’re exposed to is hysterical and depressing headlines about the virus, our mind may start to identify with those themes and having us feeling flat. In a sense, our minds are like a powdered Gatorade mix. In theory, the more powder the better the flavour. But if you’re anything like me and you’ve tried to overload your mixes, you’ll know that too much of anything will upset the balance.

So, in order to achieve the most delicious ratio of COVID-19 related news, consider both the source and duration of your consumption. I recommend choosing a few reputable outlets that are easy for you to understand (E.g. VicGovDH on Twitter, or TheDailyAus on Instagram), and setting a time limit for how long you want to spend taking in the news (E.g. 2×15 minute blocks).

Managing uncertainty at the moment may not be pleasant, but it’s a very real part of our reality that won’t likely be going away any time soon. While it may not always be easy, I assure you there are things we can do to respond to our situation and support ourselves moving forward. Challenge yourself to control the controllable. Look for opportunities to choose, plan within the scope, and curate your personal news coverage.

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