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  • Writer's pictureOlive Von Topp

What you can control in a time of uncertainty

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

So here we are. We’ve read about it. Watched movies with a perverse fascination. We’ve denied that it could ever happen. Here we are at what feels like the end of the world. And perhaps it is the end of the world as we know it. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is definitely a shift.

And it is scary.

It is okay to be scared.

And anxious.

Uncertainty is scary.

But it is important we don’t let fear rule us.

Things will change.

Maybe even some things will change for the better.

But we will adapt.

How we act now will affect just how much things will change.

For many of us, a lot of the anxiety comes from feeling out of control. It feels big and like there isn’t much we can do. This can be really triggering, especially for people who try to control their world as a coping mechanism or trauma response. But feeling out of control is hard for all of us.

We can't control how long this will last, or what will happen, or whether other people will follow social distancing rules.

But there are things we CAN control, such as the way we react and what thoughts we allow to dominate our brain (more on this in a minute and maybe even a separate post).

The more we can let go of what we cannot control and start focusing on what we CAN control, the healthier we will be and the easier time we will have.

So here are a few things you CAN do in this time of uncertainty.

1. Get grounded

Things feel pretty bananas. There is a lot of information being thrown at us. A lot of misinformation. A lot of panic. It is important to get grounded and get your system regulated. We need to move out of our amygdala, or lizard brain (the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear and dictates your flight or fight response) and into the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for stimulation of "rest-and-digest” mode.

a. Meditate. Even for 5 minutes. There are lots of guided meditations online that can be helpful. Focusing on your breath and quieting your mind can have extremely positive affects on your mood and overall health. Some research has even found that people who meditate regularly experience less pain.

b. Journal. It helps you get at your feelings and get some of the thoughts out of your head that have been circling around for hours, days, or weeks.

c. Get outside. I always feel more grounded when I am in nature. It helps me feel connected and calm. As humans, we need to connect to nature.

d. Practice mindfulness. Practice being present, body scans, doing activities that focus on the senses, have a hot shower and narrate what you are doing. Here is just one of a million resources.

e. Breathe. Take a big breath in for a count of 4, hold for 2, let out for 4, hold for 2. Repeat.

2. Be properly informed

It is important to read reputable news sources that don’t use fear mongering tactics. Titles like “deadly disease” are usually a clue. It is a balance between staying informed and not getting swallowed up by fear and panic.

3. Look after your mental well-being

It is important to look after your mental well-being. Don’t let yourself get absorbed in fear mongering. Are you going down a media hole? Scrolling aimlessly through social media? Feeling worse?

a. Set a timer. I will look at social media/media for ____ minutes. Or limit yourself: I will read 1 article that is helpful and 1 that is an update and that is it.

b. Make sure you plan to do something enjoyable afterwards.

c. Isolation can also be hard- what do you need to feel connected? Can you call someone? Join an online class (so many people are putting their services online now). Skype with a loved one. Go for a walk. Play a game online with someone.

d. Seek support. Lots of counselors offering services online. There are lots of online therapy apps as well as apps to help with mental health. Here are a few. I’m not a counselor, but I do offer 30 min coaching consults for free, so I am happy to use that to talk about how you are feeling, as well as ideas for managing your mindset. Reach out to a supportive loved one.

e. Set boundaries on what you need or are willing to take on. Do you need to tell your mother-in-law to stop sending you articles every 2 hours or your friend or spouse to check-in before they unleash their own anxiety on you? Do you need alone time outside? Are you being triggered? Ask yourself what you need to get through this time and try communicating it to your loved ones if necessary and you are able.

f. Acknowledge your feelings. They are real. They are valid. This is a scary time. Don’t ignore them but also don’t let them consume you. Name them. Be willing to feel them. Let them go. But don’t let them dictate your actions.

g. Do exercise or movement that can help your mental health. Yoga? Dance? Walks? Whatever you can do while social distancing. We are bound to feel a bit “penned up”, so do what you can to help move your body and help your mental health. There are lots of videos online.

h. Make time to laugh. Watch funny videos, tell jokes, do light reading, watch a stupid movie. Do something light for a bit. There is still room (in fact need) for beauty and humour in this challenging time.

4. Look out for and after others

I will not go on in-depth here, but I do think we are partly in this situation because people have been focused on themselves and their own needs. However, now is the time to start shifting that thinking.

I have been super disheartened by what I have seen: People taking vacations despite knowledge that the highest risk of transmission is from people travelling. People hoarding supplies so there aren’t enough for others who need them. People not taking this seriously and endangering others’ lives by going out unnecessarily. Being selfish has never gotten us anywhere as a species. Now more than ever, we need to focus on community.

However, I have also seen people coming together. Checking in on one another. Sharing supplies and resources. It has been truly uplifting and has moved me to tears on multiple occasions. It has been touching and I will choose to focus on the latter.

Here are some other ways you can help people:

a. Stay Home! Right now, this is one of the best things you can do. If you are healthy, this is not about not getting the virus, it is about not spreading it and trying to control the rate at which it spreads so our medical system does not collapse. Assume that you have it (80% spreads from people who don’t know they are sick) and act accordingly to protect people.

b. Check in on others (via phone, skype, online). Ask if they are things they need. If you are going to the store, ask if people in your neighbourhood if they need anything to reduce the risk of people going out. Check in with friends who are vulnerable or financially affected on where their anxiety is at. Let them know you are thinking of them.

c. If you are in a position to help others financially, consider it. Artists, entrepreneurs, businesses, etc. are all suffering right now and will absolutely be feeling the effects of closures and social distancing. Can you buy from them online (more people are moving services and goods online)? Can you support their business? Can you hire them for other tasks? Maybe you need admin work or yard work done (from a distance) that you can pay them for. Can you donate to them?

Can you donate to organizations helping the most vulnerable: Our homeless populations, our elderly, our immunocompromised folks?

Our undocumented folks, our disabled folks, our folks facing violence in their home, our people in institutions, our healthcare workers, our people who use substances, our indigenous communities, our people who have to go into work, our people with mental illness and/or anxiety disorders are all at unique risks and are likely struggling right now. People without private insurance/sick days, people without childcare, people who lost their jobs etc. are all struggling too and are likely experiencing heightened anxiety. Are there ways you can help them?

d. Donate to a cause that is helping. Here are a few local:

e. Join community groups (ie. “Caremongoring” on facebook) that help support others in the community. This is a great opportunity to help others and to feel uplifted by a community supporting each other.

5. Build up your immunity

Now is a good time to be working on building up your immunity to help keep yourself and others safe.

a. Manage your stress.

b. Get rest. Sleep is important in strengthening immunity and helping with anxiety. There are lots of sleep apps and meditations that can help.

c. Get exercise (in your home or yard)

d. Eat well and take your vitamins if this is accessible to you.

6. Manage your mind

The thing you have the most control over is your mind and how you react. Don’t let fear lead. You can:

a. Get curious. What are the thoughts you are having? How are they making you feel? How are you acting based on those feelings? Are you avoiding/distracting/bingeing? Lashing out at loved ones? Shutting down? Are they serving you or can you implement new thoughts that are more helpful? “Yes, I am thinking there will not be enough for me. It makes me feel scared and operate out of a place of scarcity.” Can you remind myself that you are taken care of? That community will provide. That we are all in this together. There are good people. We will get through this.

Does saying things like "I can't do this" or "This isn't fair" help you?

I highly suggest writing down your thoughts and the feelings you are experiencing connected to them. You might surprise yourself what you discover.

Can you ask yourself what are you afraid of? Catastrophe? Lack of control? Uncertainty? Scarcity? Death? Financial ruin? It is helpful to get familiar with what is at the root of your fears so you can create and use thoughts that soothe and help you.

c. Can you develop some mantras to say to yourself to help you when fear is taking over?

  • We will get through this

  • Being panicked doesn’t help anyone

  • There is enough

  • We have survived a lot, we will survive this

  • Every storm runs out of rain –Maya Angelou

  • Flatten the curve

  • I am resourceful. I am resilient.

  • Now is the time for positive change

  • My discomfort is worth saving a life

  • I am safe

  • I cannot control this, and that is okay. What I can control is __________

  • I am in control of my own thoughts, feelings, and actions

  • I've been through a lot, I will get through this

  • I am capable

  • I have what I need to get through this

  • I am not alone

  • I'm stronger than I think

  • One day at a time

  • This too shall pass

d. Asking yourself helpful questions can also help manage your mind:

  • How can I be my best self during these hard times?

  • How can I find joy and gratitude when things are tough?

  • Who is the person I want to be during these difficult times? How will I show up?

e. Finding the positive. Not to silver lining this but what are the positives? Can you change your perspective?

  • Are you always saying you wish time would slow down, now it is (a friend of mine told me this one)

  • Time to get things done you have been putting off

  • Time to check in and connect with people you haven’t talked to in awhile

  • Time to focus on healing and care

  • Time to spend with your family

  • Time to change our thinking to community and show up for one another

  • Look at all the wonderful people doing wonderful selfless things

  • New creative ways to connect and work moving forward

  • This is a time of slowed pollution and a breathe for the planet

  • Maybe things will change for the better in the end and people will be equal and given basic human rights everywhere and the environment will be taken better care of.

  • More time for orgasms

f. Forgive yourself. It is fair to be scared. It is fair to be overwhelmed. If you aren't "using this time to be productive" or aren't feeling super creative or in a position to help others that's okay. If your kids are having too much screen time or you are trying to do work while they are home, it's okay. Give yourself permission for that to be okay. Just do your best to manage and know that that is enough.

7. Access pleasure

It is super important when times are challenging that we still access pleasure. It offsets a lot of the negative feelings and helps calm us and regulates our system, bringing us back into rest and digest mode.

a. What is pleasurable for you? Create a list. Do at least one thing on said list/day.

b. I don’t know what brings you pleasure, but here are a couple ideas: Dance, sing, read, make love, draw, organize, create, cook, relax, take a bath, go for a walk, garden, craft, cuddle a child or pet, make a spreadsheet, laugh. Whatever you enjoy.

8. Practice gratitude

There are still things to be grateful for in these times. Practicing gratitude (even a few minutes in the shower or while brushing your teeth) keeps you in joy and helps maintain perspective. Ask yourself:

  • What is good about this situation?

  • What do I have to be thankful for?

9. Get stuff done you have been putting off

If you have the privilege, now is the time to do your taxes, tackle that closet reorganization or home renovation project, learn a new skill, read a book, etc.

10. Trust yourself

Just know that you will get through this. You have your own back. You have been through tough times before and you will get through this. You can handle any emotion.

Well, those are just a few ideas of what you CAN do during a time of uncertainty. Lean into them and let go of what you can't control.

So, get grounded. Get yourself off. Get to work taking care of yourself and others.

You got this.

We have this.


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