Metro

  • Written by Bethany Teachman, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

It’s 1:36 a.m. and I’ve just gotten my daughter back to sleep after she threw up violently. She has no fever, no cough, no shortness of breath, but what if…. I think it’s food poisoning and not COVID-19, but I can’t know for sure. Not knowing is hard. I’ll call the pediatrician in the morning, but for tonight I’m left with racing “what if” thoughts.

Most people hate this all-too-familiar type of uncertainty. I find it fascinating.

As a psychologist[1], I’m interested in how people think differently when they’re anxious. That means I study what happens when people don’t handle uncertainty well and get lost in that bottomless pit of currently unanswerable questions.

If you’re having trouble handling pandemic uncertainty, psychology research can offer tips on how to deal with these unprecedented times.

The uncertainty-anxiety connection

There’s no script to follow for how to live through a pandemic. That can be hard to deal with because it’s natural to form narratives to help you know how to respond. In a movie theater, you know that when it gets dark, it means the movie is about to start – that movie theater script tells you not to panic and think the theater has lost power or is under attack.

In this moment, we are figuratively in the dark, and many people feel they’re drowning in unanswered questions and the anxiety they provoke.

When will a vaccine be available? When will schools reopen (or close again)? Who will win the election? Should I let my child do sports? Is my job safe, or for those less fortunate, when will I find a new job? How many more times will I see “your connection is unstable” during an important video call?

overwhelmed woman at laptop sitting with girl coloring With life turned upside down, not knowing when the pandemic will end can trigger anxiety. Brothers91/E+ via Getty Images[2]

The list of unanswered questions can feel infinite, with no quick or sure answers likely to come for some time. Sitting with these questions is scary, because not knowing can make you feel that the world is unpredictable and your fate is out of your control.

So, what do you do with the anxiety this uncertainty naturally evokes[3]?

If you get stuck replaying the unanswered questions over and over and let anxiety guide your thinking, you’re likely to fill in the gaps with worst-case scenarios. A tendency to catastrophize and assign negative and threatening interpretations[4] when situations are uncertain or ambiguous is a hallmark of anxiety disorders. In fact, “intolerance of uncertainty,” the tendency to fear the unknown and find the lack of certainty highly distressing and uncomfortable, is a strong predictor of anxiety in both adults[5] and children and adolescents[6].

Given that COVID-19, the economy, racial injustice, climate change and the presidential election all take the need to tolerate uncertainty to a whole new level, it’s not surprising that the percentage of people reporting symptoms of anxiety rose dramatically [7] in the U.S. in 2020.

Stop spiraling and think differently

No individual can fix all the problems American communities are facing right now. And answers to many of those known unknowns and unknown unknowns are elusive for the moment. But you can change the way you respond to uncertainty, which can make managing this difficult time a little easier.

You can reframe the meaning of not knowing to make it less scary.

bearded man with eyes closed and hands to his face Reframing your mindset can help you deal with uncertainties. Aleli Dezmen/Cultura via Getty Images[8]

Imagine three different ways I can think about the uncertainty I feel right now as my sick daughter sleeps down the hall.

First, I can choose to believe in my ability to manage whatever will come, so it is OK to take it a day at a time. I can handle not knowing exactly why my daughter threw up for now because I believe that I will seek appropriate medical care and that I can handle whatever results come my way.

Second, I can remind myself that uncertainty does not guarantee bad things will happen; it just means I don’t know yet. The anxiety I feel from the uncertainty does not actually mean a negative outcome is more likely. The fact that I’m worrying about whether my daughter has COVID-19 does not increase the likelihood of her having it. It just feels that way because of a common tendency, especially among anxious individuals, to think that just having a negative thought makes it more likely to come true. Psychologists call this thought-action-fusion[9].

Third, I can recognize that I cope with uncertainty in other parts of life all the time. I mean, try to envision exactly what your relationships and work will look like one year from now – there is so much you just don’t know. So I’ve had lots of practice tolerating uncertainty, which tells me I can handle uncertainty even though it’s hard. I’ve done it before; I can do it again.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[10].]

Thinking differently about your ability to manage uncertainty is a skill that can improve with practice. Cognitive behavior therapy[11], for example, teaches people to examine their anxious thoughts and consider other ways to interpret situations without always assuming the worst; there are specialized versions of this treatment that focus specifically on changing how well you can deal with uncertainty[12]. Moreover, as part of our research program, my lab at the University of Virginia offers free online interventions[13] to help people shift their anxious thinking.

Of course, a fourth way to respond to my middle-of-the-night uncertainty would be to sink down into that pit of scary, unanswerable “what if” questions, but it’s time to sleep. I’m going with one of the first three options – I trust I can figure this out in the morning and handle whatever it is. It’s OK not to know right now.

Authors: Bethany Teachman, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

Read more https://theconversation.com/3-research-based-ways-to-cope-with-the-uncertainties-of-pandemic-life-144778

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

KAI ALECE “Raise ‘Em Up”

Sometimes, a song written by a brilliant, insightful songwriter who’s been flying – and singing - way too long under the radar, rises to meet the sociopolitical moment in unimaginably provocative ways. After hundreds of gigs throughout the Southe...

News Co - avatar News Co

How I tied an 80s Pop Icon to an Alien Abduction

I was playing guitar when I got a message that 80s rocker Tommy Tutone (Tommy Heath) wanted me to use the hook from his 1984 hit "867-5309/Jenny" in a new song.  You might know the song; it's the one with the phone number "867-5309".  It might be...

AV Super Sunshine - avatar AV Super Sunshine

An Unexpected Effect of COVID: Collaboration and Creativity

Who knew? The mentions in the news of the coronavirus hitting American shores were just beginning when my husband and I went ahead with our weekend getaway. It was late February, and we were headed to Chicago, a simple four-hour drive away from o...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

COVID-19: A MUSIC INDUSTRY KILLER

Fifty years from now—long after Covid-19 has run its course—what will historians say about how we handled this pandemic? Will they praise us for a job well done? Or will they marvel, instead, at the viral panic that led to such irrational, cont...

David P Hatherill, PhD (aka Dr Dave Smooth Jazz Recording Artist) and John Sack, MD - avatar David P Hatherill, PhD (aka Dr Dave Smooth Jazz Recording Artist) and John Sack, MD

NEW MUSIC AND VIDEO: AV SUPER SUNSHINE “X File: 8675309”

One of the most iconic phone numbers in rock history, 867-5309 began life scrawled under the name “Jenny” on a bathroom wall in 1982 – the year the band Tommy Tutone took the single to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Nearly four decades later, thank...

News Co - avatar News Co

COVID-19'S EFFECT ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the music industry in ways that could ultimately turn it on its head not only during the pandemic but, perhaps, permanently. Since its inception, the business model of the music industry has remained largely un...

Brandyn Cross - avatar Brandyn Cross

Metropolitan Business News

How to Deliver the Perfect Elevator Pitch

Do you struggle with explaining your career with professional or personal contacts, and you want to make a lasting impression? Whether you're looking for a job or building up your network, a wel...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

Three Asian Countries That are Leaders in Outsourcing

Would it surprise you to know that three of the top five ranked countries for ease of doing business are in Asia? Would it surprise you more to know that India and China aren’t even in the top 3...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

FCB and oOh! help Kiwis vote with dynamic campaign for Electoral Commission

oOh!media and FCB NZ are helping Kiwi voters exercise their democratic rights this general election, via a localised dynamic Out of Home campaign for the New Zealand Electoral Commission. The c...

Lighthouse Communications. - avatar Lighthouse Communications.

MODEL/ACTOR THORN CASTILLO IS THE “NEW FACE” OF SCHICK STYLIST

In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

Writers Wanted


News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion