HealthySteps to Wellness spoke with Rosan Gomperts the Faculty Staff Help Center Director on how to manage uncertainty. I consider myself very fortunate to have the privilege of listening to many peoples’ stories. Sometimes I hear about the suffering and difficulty they are moving through and sometimes the beauty they experience. I listen to all the ways they cope, some very positive and some that are work in progress.
Being a mental health clinician gives me a lot of space to consider and talk about what helps me in difficult times and work with others on what might be helpful for them. I have learned over many years that people are truly different with regard to what helps them through life.
As a mental health care professional (and human being), this is what I do to take care of myself when I am feeling anxious, sad, or just at loose ends.
Most importantly (and I genuinely believe this is true for everyone)–SELF COMPASSION
I believe self-compassion is one of the most important ingredients of good mental health. Self-compassion is not self-pity. It is the ability to treat and talk to yourself as you would a loved one. It sounds straightforward and simple–but it is not. We all have strong patterns, and it takes a lot of effort and energy to shift. Shifting the way we talk to and treat ourselves can be very difficult but is worth it.
Accept that there are many things that you do not have control over and work to resist that reality less. We all can (and I assume have) felt overdone through the pandemic. Thoughts of “I don’t know how much longer I can take this” can be very present and zap your energy, desire, and patience. At these times, I remind myself that I am incredibly fortunate in so many ways, that this too shall pass, and that there is no better option than putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the things I have control over.
Self-care is something you do typically have some control over. What constitutes self-care is different for people. Some people need to do nothing and remember that doing nothing is doing something. Other people need to go on a long bike ride. Others need to have hobbies and engage in them, and most people need to connect with trusted loved ones. The form it takes is not as important as knowing what helps you. It is essential to have a go-to list – from a short one, such as “do nothing,” to a longer one that could include reading, exercising, cooking, meditating, connecting, etc. Have at least a short list of go-to’s and enjoy the time. What is off the list? Your should-dos (e.g., leave the laundry for another day).
Skills are also important to have on board to move through difficult times. Have an awareness of how you feel and, if necessary, pull up the skills to manage those thoughts and feelings. It is not bad to feel sad, mad, depleted, anxious, or any number of other feelings. It is not good to feel out of control with no way to manage yourself. If I feel anxious, I immediately breathe and try to get my body to calm down. I also look at my thoughts and try not to let them run rampant but rather give myself time to process, have self-compassion, and recognize that these thoughts are often reflections of my feelings – as opposed to literally accurate or a true reflection of reality.
Managing uncertainty may mean trying different approaches to see what works best for you. For another perspective, I asked my colleague Amy Friedman for her advice.
PRACTICE anything. Amy started a practice of finding beauty in the neighborhood during her daily runs. She practices the piano and took up Spelling Bee, a daily word game in the New York Times. Regular practice offers a sense of routine, familiarity, and accomplishment.
SHARE what you can. Amy decided to share her discoveries of finding quotidian beauty with friends and family.
CONNECT with anyone, oneself and nature. Amy organized dinners and movies with friends over Zoom. A family member set up an online trivia night for friends. Many groups and families established weekly Zoom get-togethers. Connections can include pleasantries with a barista, playing with a pet, and eating together with family.
ADD A MODIFIER. Say “for now” to describe how things are in the moment when they aren’t as you wish them to be.
BREATHE long, slow, deep breaths. The data points to the mental health benefits of breathing. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly, and think: in with the fresh, out with the extraneous.
EXERCISE for one minute, five minutes or more than 20 minutes. Research shows that any movement is better for your physical and mental health than prolonged sedentary stillness.
SEEK SUPPORT formally and informally if and when you need it.
Rosan Gomperts. L.C.S.W.,
Faculty Staff Help Center Director