What helps in uncertain times?

Photo by Zac Wolff on Unsplash

Unprecedented. Are you sick of that word yet? But … how else can we describe these times? 

No one knows what to expect; no one knows when we can return to “normal,” or what the “new normal” will look like. All we have are educated guesses, and even there, conflicting opinions and advice abound.

It turns out that ambiguity—the realm of the uncertain—is hard for lots of us to handle. In fact, learning to tolerate uncertainty is a key task of many approaches to therapy.*

William Bridges popularized a three-stage model of transition in which “Ending What Currently Is” and “The New Beginning” are separated by an ambiguous “Neutral Zone.” In my opinion, neutral zone is a misnomer for this liminal, betwixt-and-between time; maybe it should be rebranded the fumbling in the dark zone, or maybe the zone of free-floating unease, paralysis, and worry. The unprecedented zone.

So, what helps in uncertain and unprecedented times? You can find a list of wellbeing resources here, but I also wanted to share some links that resonated for me personally.

In the early days, I appreciated this blog post on Complexity in the Time of COVID-19. I’m not otherwise familiar with Chris Corrigan’s work, but it made sense to me that our current situation occupies “the liminal space between chaos and complexity” wherein it can be useful to lean on heuristics: simplified general principles like “act as if I am contagious and I have a responsibility not to infect others” or “exercise and find some joy.” For examples of wellbeing-centred heuristics, check out the Thrive 5 (and the Thrive 5 infographic created by GrasPods Wellness Coordinator Courtney van Ballegooie).

Some of you may already have encountered this Harvard Business Review interview with grief scholar David Kessler: That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief. Kessler frames collective and individual experiences in the poignant language of grief, offering some gentle tips for navigating overwhelming feelings.

Finally, Esther Perel is probably my favourite public figure in the current therapy/pop-psychology/wellness media; I tuned into her webinar on How to Live with Prolonged Uncertainty and Grief. There are many nuggets of wisdom and insight throughout the webinar, but I particularly like what she says about putting words to “bad” or “stressed” feelings (around the 13:27 mark). She summarizes many similar ideas here: What is this Feeling? Anticipatory Grief and Other New Pandemic-Related Emotions. Fellow Esther fans can browse her other resources on Love, Loss, Loneliness, and a Pinch of Humour Under Lockdown.

What have you found helpful “in these uncertain times”?

I’ll do another post soon about “productivity” and self-compassion while working from home. Stay tuned!

*Including Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). For COVID-specific resources based on these approaches, see FACE COVID: How to Respond Effectively to the Corona Crisis (ACT), Tolerance for Uncertainty: A COVID-19 Workbook (DBT), or Practical Cognitive Behavioural Strategies to Manage your Mental Health (CBT).