Health & Wellness
How to handle uncertainty
by Gabby Dumonceaux | May 8, 2020

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” — Nelson Mandela

Cancellations. Closures. COVID-19.

There’s no denying it: we live in uncertain times. If you’re feeling suffocated or overwhelmed in response to the events of the last few months, you’re not alone. In fact, half of Canadians said their mental health worsened over the course of their self-isolation, according to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute.

Essentially, nobody knows what’s going to happen next and we’re all really stressed about it.

A person's hand flips through a notebook where every page boasts a large question mark.

This bodes the question: how can we deal with uncertainty? We may not be able to predict when businesses will reopen or when we’ll be allowed back on campus, but what small steps can we take to make ourselves feel better?

Well, friend, that’s what I’m here to help you figure out.

Control what you can, release what you can’t

You know that one friend who’s gotten really into baking during quarantine? Well, besides producing delicious desserts, that could be because baking gives them a sense of control over something. Even if that “something” is sourdough.

A chef with red hair wearing a white apron, black shirt, black pants and red shoes squats in front of an oven, watching as her bread bakes.

Humans are biologically wired to want control.

So, your friend who’s on their ninth loaf of banana bread this month? They can’t do anything to ensure their summer internship will still happen, but they can dictate how much cinnamon they put in their batter. An odd comparison, sure, but replacement is how we cope.

Stu Pickles from Nickelodeon's "Rugrats" appears tired as he stirs a pot on the stove and says, "Because I've lost control of my life."

Once you recognize your inherent desire to be in control, the next step is to determine what you actually can control, like how often you wash your hands. You can decide to practice social distancing. You can keep your living spaces sanitized.

Focus on the aspects of your problems you can manage, and let the rest go.

Challenge the need to know

Brace for the best

When the events of the future are unclear, it’s easy to imagine the worst-case scenario. What if I fail all my classes because school is online? What if I can never hug my friends again? What if life never goes back to normal?

In reality, the catastrophes we imagine rarely ever come to fruition. You can save yourself a lot of misery by choosing to visualize the positives that could come from uncertainty. What if you develop the ability to learn in new ways? What if you never take a hug for granted again? What if life never goes back to normal, but things change for the better?

Arnold from Nickelodeon's "Hey Arnold!" sits on a red rouch and says, "It's a hypothetical question."

Release the expectation to know everything in advance and challenge your tendency to assume the worst in the face of the unknown.

You’ll feel better for it.

Actively manage emotion

If Pixar’s Inside Out (2015) taught us anything, it’s that negative emotions are essential to overcoming difficult situations. So, don’t suppress them. Instead, recognize them, acknowledge they’re no fun and find healthy ways to cope until they pass.

Riley from Disney-Pixar's "Inside Out" (2015) is hugged by her mother and father. Inside her head, Joy's eyes narrow as she appears to realize the importance of feeling sad.

Because they will pass.

Being in quarantine is a great opportunity to experiment with different stress management techniques. Exercising, playing music and spending time outdoors work best for me, but there are endless ways to cope with anxiety. And, if you need someone to listen, the counsellors at the Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre (SWAC) have got you covered—even from home.

Live in the discomfort

When all else fails, the best way to handle uncertainty is to, well, not handle uncertainty.

Naturi Naughton as Tasha St. Patrick on STARZ looks solemnly at the camera and says, "It's time to let that go."

To some degree, the pursuit of conquering unpredictability is useless because life’s unknowns are infinite. It’s like laundry: as soon as you think you’re caught up, there’s more to deal with.

So, let your laundry pile up a little. Try your best to accept that, yeah, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, and yeah, that can feel really scary. It’s okay to be nervous and uncomfortable. We’re in a global pandemic.

The bravest thing you can do is let things be uncertain.


On edge? Cool off online with these websites designed to de-stress.

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