Managing Uncertainty

March 15, 2020

Although this hasn’t been a particularly bad winter, the cold, wet weather along with short days can negatively impact one’s perspective, mental health, and outlook. Last week marked the end of daylight savings, which will begin a pattern of longer days and (hopefully) warmer, drier weather; however, it also brought with it new challenges and unprecedented concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The change from Winter to Spring happens every year. We have come to expect it. Despite the expectation, the change is different every year. Perhaps Spring comes early or arrives late. Sometimes, Spring doesn’t seem to visit at all, and we transition directly from dreary, dark winter days to bright, hot summer nights. Whatever happens, the change is inevitable. And we have absolutely no control over it. And this year, considering all the uncertainty with regards to COVID-19, we are truly in unchartered territories.

What is control really? How would you define it? Does it truly exist?

When a person lives with anxiety, they may begin trying to figure out ways to get rid of it or better yet control it. Or as the definition states, “influence or direct the course of events” in order to manage their anxiety. Here’s the problem…it may not work. In fact, it usually makes anxiety worse. Then why do people continue to use a strategy that is ineffective? *Enter the illusion of control.

For many people who live with anxiety, there is a feeling of “worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome” so attempting to control the outcome brings with it a certain amount of comfort. If, in fact, the outcome is what we hoped for, we feel a sense of control. Like what we did or said had some positive impact on the outcome. But this isn’t the case at all. What happened was going to happen despite our best efforts to control the outcome. Often what happens is the opposite of what we had hoped for and with this comes increased anxiety and thoughts such as, “Why do I bother?” So, what now?

I myself have lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember. And now, I am preparing to embark on a new adventure. An adventure that brings with it immense change and absolutely no control…Parenthood.

When I first discovered that I was going to become a parent, I experienced many of the expected emotions: joy, excitement, anxiety, and fear. Then something happened, quietly and slowly at first. I began to experience a sense of calm. Rather than spending time and energy focusing on the external fallacy of control, I realized that what is truly important during this time is acceptance. Does this mean I will stop experiencing anxiety or that I will stop planning? Absolutely not. But what it does mean is that I have begun to change the story I tell myself. This takes great effort, requires an immense amount of positive self-talk, and a daily reminder to challenge my internal dialogue. Depending on the circumstance, the dialogue may be easy to change while at other times, it may be more challenging. Considering the recent health crisis that is upon us and growing by the day and one that I cannot control, it is most likely going to be very challenging.

With change comes vulnerability and courage. It means that instead of going down that rabbit hole and answering the “What if…” questions, we can work on paying more attention to the process of learning to manage whatever happens. We can learn to allow courage and acceptance to take up more space than anxiety and the illusion of control. Because, really, we never had it in the first place.