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Coronavirus - Coping With The Chaos - How To Manage Uncertainty in Uncertain Times

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The world is still experiencing a global pandemic, even as we start to exit ‘lock-down’

We are living in extremely uncertain times - and that uncertainty can be difficult to cope with. 

You may feel worried right now.  You may struggle to keep anxious thoughts in check.  And you may feel unsure about the future.

But you and your children CAN learn to live with uncertainty.

 Facing Uncertainty is Scarier than Facing Physical Pain

A recent study shows that the uncertainty of something bad possibly happening can be more stressful than the knowledge of something bad happening. 

In 2016, a group of London researchers explored how people react to being told they will either "definitely" or "probably" receive a painful electric shock.  They discovered an intriguing paradox.

Volunteers who knew they would definitely receive a painful electric shock felt calmer and were measurably less agitated than those who were told they only had a 50 percent chance of receiving the electric shock.

 Researchers recruited 45 volunteers to play a computer game in which they turned over digital rocks that might have snakes hiding underneath. Throughout the game, they had to guess whether each rock concealed a snake. When a snake appeared, they received a mild but painful electric shock on the hand.  Over the course of the game they got better about predicting under which rocks the snakes were lurking, but the game was designed to evolve, constantly changing the odds of success to maintain ongoing uncertainty.

When we’re facing uncertain outcomes, it’s the fact that something bad might happen that makes us anxious.

The volunteers’ level of uncertainty correlated to their level of stress. So, if someone felt “certain” he or she would find a snake, stress levels were significantly lower than if they felt that maybe they would find a snake.

In both cases, they’d get a shock, but their stress was loaded with added uncertainty.

Archy de Berker from the UCL Institute of Neurology said: "Our experiment allows us to draw conclusions about the effect of uncertainty on stress. It turns out that it's much worse not knowing you are going to get a shock than knowing you definitely will or won’t.”

Uncertainty Ignites our Primitive Survival Instinct

If we can’t neutralise a perceived threat, we engage in the unhelpful process called “worry”.  We try to find solutions to the threat, but with no certainty there are none.

Does this make us feel better? No, of course it doesn’t - it makes us feel worse.

In our need for certainty, we are wired to “catastrophise” - we view or talk of a situation as worse than it actually is. This leads to worry, which in turn leads to anxiety.  We become like those meerkat sentries who stand guard over their territory, seeing threats everywhere.You see, the modern brain struggles to distinguish between real threat and perceived threat. The result is that the primitive brain takes over and triggers the primitivesurvival instinct - fight-flight- or freeze.

question-mark-2306526_1920It asks questions:

What is going to happen…?

What is around the corner for me…?

Should I be doing more…?

Should I be doing less…?

What if my business is threatened…?

What if my livelihood is threatened…?

What if my life is threatened…?

The lack of answers can lead to emotional responses including:

Anger

Aggression

Frustration

Fear

What Can we do to Mitigate Uncertainty?

There are a number of things we can do to lessen the effects of uncertainty:

• Awareness is your superpower - be aware of your feelings and emotions

• Notice the “worry story” you are telling yourself - try to distance yourself from it

• Focus on breathing - long, slow, natural breaths

• Recognise the need to rise above fight-or-flight

• Accept uncertainty - the 'I don't know' - allow yourself to stop the struggle

 

Stand up to Anxiety with Some Mood-Boosters

• Exercise and movement - dance to your favourite music perhaps

• Meditation, mindfulness and self hypnosis (I can help you and your kids with these)

• Achievement-oriented activity - set manageable targets and celebrate your successes

• Something pleasant or fun - and if it gets you laughing - all the better.

 Just 15 minutes a day, focussing on yourself, will help you regain a sense of balance.

The more you practice all these strategies, the better you will become!

To help you with the mood-boosting, check out my free download

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