We are in a period of collective deep uncertainty about the future. An adversarial climate permeates our political culture. The urgent issues of our time seem daunting. And now the recent onset of a virus considered to be a pandemic has led to widespread concern.
In times of uncertainty and fear, it helps to be proactive. It doesn’t help to be reactive. But how can you tell if you are proactive or reactive, especially when circumstances are rapidly changing? It’s not always easy. But keeping in mind what you have control over, and focusing on that, is a good strategy. Being clear about what you don’t have control over, and not giving that disproportionate head space, is also a good strategy. These two strategies, together, will help you get through a difficult time and can help others as well.
Here are five more practical things that will help you feel proactive and prepared. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel fear. But fear is not a problem. When you know you have good strategies to cope, you can live more comfortably with uncertainty and even fear.
1. Find a credible news source and keep up to date. This means informing yourself daily, not multiple times a day. Here in the United States, two good sources are Medline Plus and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. Protect yourself and others by sharing information from only credible sources. Don’t follow a 24/7 news cycle – constant looping around a fluid situation does not help you to feel more prepared.
2. Stay healthy. This is common sense and important, for you and others around you. Self-care regimes are so helpful at a time of uncertainty. In addition to your existing health care practices, follow the recommended guidelines for hand washing, travel advisories, and what to do if you have symptoms during a pandemic.
3. It is proactive, not reactive, to prepare in advance for lifestyle changes that need to be made if the Coronavirus spreads. For example, do you have an upcoming flight in the next few weeks? Be open to changing your travel plans. This does not mean changing your travel plans right away. Creating an internal state of flexibility toward future plans will help you feel less tense about what to do. Another example: if you have a major decision to make about an expenditure of money, can you hold off? Simplifying the number of decisions you need to make at a time of uncertainty is good for your emotional health.
4. Disruptions to your daily activities can leave you feeling separate and disconnected from others. Stay in touch in other ways. Instead of texting, talk to loved ones on a video stream. Or imagine the people in your social circles and send them light and good wishes at this time. Beyond your own communities, imagine people you don’t know who are affected by this situation. Send wishes for good health and well-being to them. Wishing others well, in a heartfelt way, leads to a sense of connection and a recognition that we are in this together.
5. If your daily activities are disrupted, schedule activities that help you feel engaged in your life. Write a block of time to read into your calendar. Then do it! After your morning coffee, take a walk outside rather than read the newsfeed. Feeling engaged in a meaningful way offsets the discomfort that comes from waiting to see what unfolds.
It’s true that we don’t have control over many of our external circumstances. This is a painful awareness when those circumstances are frightening. At the same time, exercising control over how we care for ourselves and live our day-to-day lives helps offset the discomfort. Be flexible, be open, and be proactive. We can meet uncertainty, even fear, with a mindset that nurtures confidence and well-being.