Coping with fear and anxiety during times of uncertainty
Author: Flavia Nogueira
Locked inside our homes, trying to focus on our jobs while worrying about the health of our families and not knowing what will happen next can be, to say the least, frustrating. In an article for Psychology Today, the psychotherapist Bryan Robinson explains what has caused this storm in our minds saying it’s because “uncertainty equals danger”.
“Your survival brain is constantly updating your world, making judgments about what’s safe and what isn’t. Due to its disdain for uncertainty, it makes up all sorts of untested stories hundreds of times a day, because, to the mind, uncertainty equals danger. If your brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it can’t keep you out of harm’s way”, says Robinson.
The author and psychotherapist also points out that the brain “always assumes the worst, over-personalizes threats, and jumps to conclusions. (Your brain will do almost anything for the sake of certainty.) And you’re hardwired to overestimate threats and underestimate your ability to handle them – all in the name of survival”.
Back to the present
According to Dr Marilda Lipp, a psychologist specialising in stress management, this period of social distancing is tough because we are used to being able to get out, meet people in bars, restaurants, cinemas and shopping malls. “To stay at home, not being able to do any of these activities is highly stressful for many”, Dr Lipp told me in an interview.
This new reality means a change in our way of living: in these weeks “it is mandatory to be in the present, in the here and now”, she suggests.
“Everyone is living for what will happen next, everyone’s in a rush to finish something, in order to do something else and something else after that. It’s a constant search for the future. But now, that we are confined at home, we must face the present”, says Dr Lipp.
Further to this, she describes how, when we think about the future, we can fantasize about the things that haven’t happened yet. But, when we are facing the present reality, the people living with us, we have no choice but to face what we really have in our lives and ask all those difficult questions.
“Sometimes this can be a little frightening for those used to living in the illusory world of the future. And, as they were always in a hurry before, these people were not paying attention to their families and their relationships. How is your relationship with your wife, your husband, your children? How is your relationship with yourself, what do you think about yourself?” are questions Dr Lipp suggests we now take the opportunity to ask ourselves.
Too much information
In a reality of uncertainty and speculation, the advice from another psychologist, Ana Carolina D’Agostini is to try not to “overdose” on information.
“I believe it’s important to equip ourselves with reliable information, safety information, how to wash our hands and to stay at home. However, at the same time, we must avoid an information overdose. To repeatedly watch disturbing scenes from hospitals and patients in intensive care, can increase our fear even more”, Dr D’Agostini warns.