March marked the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the globe.
As I think back to those first weeks of March 2020, I remember the fear, the questions, the mixed messages about how to stay safe, and the reality of a deadly virus affecting the world population.
There is still a large degree of uncertainty as the pandemic continues. The variant strains are causing challenges and the number of cases continue to increase. Vaccines are available, and yet, the questions continue. When can I get vaccinated? Will I be safe once I get my shot? How long will this uncertainty go on?
Many people are suffering as a result of the pandemic. There has been illness, death, lost jobs, and separation from loved ones. There has also been an impact because of the uncertainty that surrounds this whole experience. People’s health has been affected, both emotionally and physically, even if they did not contract the virus.
Living in a constant state of “not knowing” is challenging for most of us.
What makes it so hard for humans to deal with uncertainty?
1. Uncertainty leads to a fear of the unknown. As human beings, we are programmed to imagine the worst in order to be prepared for whatever is ahead. We want to be safe and so the question that arises is: “What if this or that happens?” Not knowing what lies ahead creates anxiety and fear that we will not be prepared.
2. Uncertainty means there is a loss of control. The majority of people want control over their lives. How can we have control if we don’t know what is going to happen next? Not being in control leads to a growing sense of fear and frustration.
3. Uncertainty means there is nothing concrete to anticipate. Not having a vacation to look forward to or an adventure with friends on the weekend leads to a sense of futility, boredom, and restlessness. For many of us, each day starts to feel drab and routine, and we have no way of knowing when things may change.
4. Uncertainty over a period of time leads to loneliness. The cumulative effect of loss and grief, of separation from loved ones, and a lack of connection with supportive friends has created an experience of loneliness at a level that many of us have not faced before.
5. Uncertainty that lasts for an extended period of time is stressful on many levels. A short-term crisis can be faced with courage and most of us can handle this. However, the year-long uncertainty of COVID-19 is another matter.
When a person is in a constant state of readiness for a possible challenge, the body never moves from a state of “flight, fight, or freeze” to a resting phase. This has an impact on the body and emotions and many of us are weary. Uncertainty is especially difficult when there is no end in sight.
Joy: how important is it during this time?
Joy is not dependent on external circumstances. It is a sense of contentment and peace within oneself, and I believe it is an important factor in people learning to “thrive” and not just “survive” the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic.
How do we find joy?
1. Acknowledge what is. It is important to admit the reality of life at this time. You will feel less alone as you normalize the waiting, the unknown parts of the situation and the impact it has on you, as well as on many others.
2. Admit the challenges. Yes, this is hard! We are suffering together.
3. Accept what you do not have control over. This does not mean you throw your hands up in despair and become a victim of circumstance. Acceptance is a sign of strength, not of giving up.
4. Focus on what you do have control over. This includes your attitude, your outlook, and how you respond to events in your world. It may not seem like much, however, when your energy is turned toward this direction, you will be calmer and more contented.
5. Be grateful. As you notice what is going well, however insignificant, you will find a glimmer of joy. Be on the lookout for goodness in your daily life, and take a moment to be thankful.
6. Ask for help. There is no stigma to this. In fact, it is a sign of strength to admit that you can’t do it all on your own. This could be asking for practical help around the house, or it could be reaching out to a coach or therapist. There are many resources available online, such as meditation programs, yoga classes, or podcasts that are uplifting and offer support.
7. Spend time in nature. Walking or cycling outdoors will rejuvenate you emotionally and physically. Notice your surroundings and breathe deeply. Paying attention to the breath is a way of calming the nervous system and being present in the moment. This is another way of managing anxiety about the unknown.
8. Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion means that you treat yourself with respect and care. Be patient and loving when you face a challenge. Allow yourself to be cared for, and forgive yourself when you do something you feel badly about. This will also increase your capacity to have compassion for others.
9. Make time to play. This could be learning a new board game, starting a jigsaw puzzle, or taking up some art projects, such as colouring or drawing. Playing outside combines the benefits of nature as well as the lightness of a playful energy, which will lift your spirits and bring joy to your soul.
I trust you feel less alone on this path of uncertainty as you have read some of my suggestions. We can get through this with joy and a sense of partnership as we choose to see what is possible in the midst of not knowing what is ahead.
My book, Saying Yes to Life: Embracing the Magic & Messiness of the Journey may also be of help to you.
I would love to hear from you, as you share your ideas about how you are finding joy in the midst of uncertainty.