Here Is Why Uncertainty Feels So Terrifying

With everything opening back up after most states had shut down main government buildings and non-essential businesses, the future has many people on edge thinking about “What now?” As life continues during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still so much we don’t know about the virus. People ask, “will things ever go back to normal? Will life be completely changed for good?” The truth is that scientists and health officials offer suggestions and predictions, but almost nothing about the pandemic is certain except that it could last a long while. Many people who struggle with anxiety find uncertainty to be incredibly challenging, and isolation is causing a peak in depression.

According to New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist Jessica Linick, our brains are designed to evaluate threats and risk, and uncertainty can feel incredibly unsafe. The brain looks for patterns, and the mechanism is suitable when circumstances are predictable. Still, in times of change and unpredictability, our nervous systems are on high alert, always looking for risks. When your nervous system is activated in that way, it can produce a fight or flight response. During the pandemic, people have lost their jobs, which means they lose their source of income to pay for essential everyday things. We are not only worried about ourselves, but also about those around us and how they are going to make it through. Some people may be on the brink of losing their houses, cars, insurance, getting ill, or don’t have any money to buy groceries to feed their families.

The majority of us have never been through an experience like the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are struggling with the “what ifs” scenarios due to the growing list of possible unfathomable outcomes. If we latch on to those triggers and feelings of uncertainty, we will be in constant despair and anxiety. It is good to remember that in chaotic times like today, we can control how we treat each other, which is why kindness can be so important. Keep in mind that everyone accepts and adjusts to change at different rates and have different comfort levels with uncertainty. Another good coping strategy is to engage in activities that make you happy, like cooking, gardening, listening to music/podcasts, meditation, journaling, exercising, or talking with a therapist/friend/loved one. Try not to think about the things that you don’t know, and spend more time focusing on possible things you do know.

Here are some other things you can do to keep a positive state of mind:

  • Make a list of things you are grateful for each day.
  • Look for the positives in things. “How is this a good thing?”
  • Maintain physical distancing, but stay connect to others by phone, email, and/or other social apps.
  • Get outside
  • Practice affirmations by writing positive or reassuring phrases on a piece of paper and put it where you will see it.
  • Breathing exercises
  • Choose to have a positive impact on people around you and help others by volunteering in your community.
  • Look for personal growth and become more self-aware.
  • Practice self-care

For children, try the following:

  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Let them talk about their worries.
  • Share your own coping skills.
  • Limit their news exposure.
  • Create a routine and structure.
  • Encourage creativity and fun.

If you or someone you know is having panic attacks several times a week, they may need more support. The current pandemic has also created an increase in depression. Look out for changes in appetite, sleep, tearfulness, hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide. If you feel like your distress is more than what you feel OK with, that is enough to ask for help. Some people may be in homes with unsafe people and are at risk for more safety-related anxiety and depression. Affiliated Family Counselors (316-636-2888 or have multiple therapists that specialize in anxiety and depression. We accept most major insurances, and the providers also have rates for those who do not have insurance. If you do not have access to a therapist or are in a crisis, you can contact your local crisis center. You can also get in touch with the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by 1-800-273-8255

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