Controlling the Uncontrollable
Dealing with Stress in The Most Stressful of Times
By Caroline Carter, CPC+ Practice Facilitator, HCGC
Uncertainty causes stress. We are living in uncertain times. We are stressed.
2020 has been a year of surprises – and not of the pleasant variety. Earlier in the year we experienced extreme natural disasters including floods, wildfires and earthquakes. In the last few months we have been forced to hastily adapt to the coronavirus pandemic which has already flaunted widespread colossal health and economic impact. More Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are dying than in several of America’s wars combined. Simultaneously, we are experiencing political chaos. Social unrest exploded with fierce reaction to injustices such as the killing by police of George Floyd and countless other Black people.
Safe to say, we are experiencing circumstances that the majority of us did not have the sagacity to predict.
And so, here we are in the midst of a full blown, uncontrolled pandemic with all the anxiety and stress that accompanies that scenario. We have been unceremoniously coerced to adapt to a new sense of ‘normality’ that was until very recently beyond our comprehension. Millions of people did not anticipate losing their jobs. We did not anticipate thousands of adults having to home-school their children while simultaneously fulfilling their work responsibilities – from our homes. We did not expect the high level of confinement and restrictions imposed on our lives.
Many of these stress-inducing circumstances we have begun to contend with. However, we can expect further disruptions that will bring new, additional stressors such as the unknowns about the economy. Will businesses re-open? Will we retain our jobs, those of us that were fortunate enough not to have lost them already? When will we be expected to return to the physical workplace? Will schools re-open? Will our children be safe? Will working parents will be compelled to grapple with an untenable proposition of children being in their physical school building for only one week out of three? How does one coordinate childcare in a scenario that expects them to return to their physical workspace on a full-time basis? Deb Perelman eloquently grapples with this conundrum in her recent New York Times article In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/02/business/covid-economy-parents-kids-career-homeschooling.html
First and foremost, we have to understand that stress is a normal and healthy emotion. Everybody experiences stress to some degree. It is a part of being human. We should also recognize that we are likely grappling with several types of stress including decision-making fatigue, daily hassles and chronic stress.
Decision-making fatigue is the result of having to make choices. Just a few months ago so many of our choices and decisions were routine. Consider your pre-pandemic morning routine, it is likely that it included a number of tasks that were so routine you didn’t even think about them. All of our standardized decision-making systems, our routines are gone. The beauty of routines is that they take away the need to make so many decisions. During these stressful times we are forced to make choices all the time that we didn’t have to make pre-pandemic.
So, what can we do?
They don’t have to be permanent. They don’t have to be perfect. They just need to reduce the number of decisions that you have to make so that you can experience less decision-making fatigue.
Next, let’s tackle the daily hassles. A major stressor, such as a pandemic creates a cascade of micro-stressors. These are basically small, little things that emerge that didn’t used to. The thing about hassles is that they can feel miniscule but those seemingly innocuous little things add up and cause stress.
So, what can we do?
First and foremost, don’t minimize the tax of daily hassles. Don’t give yourself a hard time when you find yourself getting upset about little things that, under normal circumstances you might not have even noticed or if you did you might have deemed them trivial.
Lastly, let’s consider chronic stress. This is a big one. We have no idea when our current, challenging conditions will be over. Living with uncertainty is a known force for causing stress.
So, what can we do?
Separate everything that is bothering you into 2 categories. One category contains things within your control, the other are things beyond your control.
For things within your control:
For things beyond your control:
General Coping Strategies:
While we cannot eliminate stress we can take some steps to minimize the effect that stress has on us. The good news is that we all have coping strategies.
Positive coping strategies include staying socially connected, engaging in happy distraction, engaging in self-care, and taking care of others.
The bottom line is that we are going to get through these challenging times. Stress and anxiety will be a part of it but we’ll get through it by focusing on positive coping strategies.
Thank you to Dr. Lisa Damour, Psychologist and best selling author for the strategies offered to manage stress.