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How to Deal With Uncertain Times and Find Your Way Forward

By Jacquelyn Adams

Oh, 2020… Americans faced a polarizing election and social unrest… and then the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Good times, right? These rapid and volatile events left no aspect of our personal or professional lives unscathed. We hoped to find a rainbow (or at least unity, some stability and compassion) at the end of this sh… uhhh… crap storm. Instead, we have found rising prices and layoffs continuing across multiple companies.

Let’s be honest, all of this can be pretty overwhelming. And I’m not the only one to say so. According to a 2021 American Psychology Association survey, 42% of respondents gained weight (averaging around 29 lbs.), and 23% reported drinking more alcohol to deal with stress. And a recent poll by Andrew Seaman, managing editor at LinkedIn, found the majority of respondents reported feeling “worried” or “very worried” when asked about their career (job search/career advancement/etc.) due to the ongoing economic uncertainty.

Friends, it’s not pretty, and many of us are struggling — and when I say “us,” I am very much including myself. This uncertainty can make it hard to think, be present or simply function, but these stressors only seem to be multiplying. It can be easy to have everything slowly tinged with a pessimistic focus. And it is so hard to be positive when our brains keep straying to bad experiences in the last couple of years or fretting about the future.

Fighting unhealthy responses

So, what do we do, assuming we aren’t throwing in the towel and hiding in a bunker for the next five or so years? One thing we (I) need to do is to learn how to face uncertainty without being overwhelmed with anxiety. Anxiety often leads to ineffective coping strategies: worry, self-medication and avoidance. Unfortunately, these can be very harmful to both our personal and professional lives. Worrying creates a chain of negative thoughts that do not help, but harm, your performance. It is not problem-solving, but wasted energy. Avoidance allows the existing problem to snowball while we pretend it doesn’t exist. It is a mentally draining exercise and can lead to an even bigger crisis when circumstances finally force us to face the problem. This is counterproductive, and it not only can — but should be — overcome. Finally, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is tricky to admit to ourselves. We might rationalize it as just “taking the edge off,” but if left unchecked can become addiction and abuse. These three traps are so easy to fall into, but we can take steps that help us have a healthier approach when facing uncertainty.

Recognizing our stressors

Right now, when it feels like we have uncertainty everywhere, it can be hard to recognize what our primary stressors are. Some questions you may want to consider concerning how you deal with stress and anxiety are:

  • How does your body react to stress? Are there cues to let you know that you’re feeling anxious? For example, I tense my shoulders, but my sister clenches her jaw.
  • What is your standard coping mechanism for anxiety? Again, for some of us it is a quick walk to the liquor cabinet, escapism in a tv show or working out.

By tracking our body’s responses and those moments when we want to embrace our coping methods, we can establish which issues are at the center of our anxiety.

Creating healthier habits

Once we have established the primary stressors, we can work to respond in healthier ways that are less anxiety driven. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some ways to right yourself:

  • Mentally: Let’s recognize that avoiding versus giving yourself a temporary respite are two very different things. Find healthy distractions to unwind and relax with activities such as reading (or listening) to a book, doing a creative hands-on project, decluttering your home, taking on a new skill, or rediscovering a passion. Try to focus on hobbies that bring you joy.
  • Physically: Increased anxiety can manifest in physical ways such as muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, or digestive issues. To combat this, add self-care to your calendar like any other meeting. Try incorporating short walks, stretching or meditation into your daily routine. If possible, develop a regular sleep routine and avoid social media (or, better yet, any screen time) in the evenings.
  • Emotionally: Talk to a therapist or call an emotionally healthy friend to process your feelings and fears, but also focus on what’s going well for you. One option includes starting a gratitude journal — writing down three daily things you are thankful for. Practice positive self-talk and be kind and patient with yourself. Explore who you are, not what you have or do.

Finally, as we are talking about weighty topics like mental health and self-medication, please be strong enough to get help if you need it. It is okay if you can’t do this on your own. It is not a weakness. People in your life are relying on you. You have more value than you will ever realize, so please, don’t let your pride stand between you and the help that you might need. Simply reading this article cannot (and is not meant to) automatically fix everything. So, my friend, whatever it takes, and whoever’s help you might need along the way, I hope tomorrow is less anxiety-driven than today, and that each day brings better coping tools.

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Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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