Thriving in Uncertain Times

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos

We are suddenly living in more uncertain times. The spectre of a new worldwide pandemic is not only making us uneasy about our health but also sparking economic uncertainty, which is being felt in the stock market and starting to affect our workplaces. Travel has been cancelled, events and meetings postponed and some companies have even resorted to telling some workers to work from home. Many industries, especially travel and hospitality, and manufacturing, will feel the economic shock well beyond this quarter. So how do we deal with heightened nerves and uncertainty?

  1. Deal with the things you can control and try not to focus on unknowns. Remember Reinhold Neibuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. Make a distinction between the things you can change – washing your hands, cleaning surfaces, conducting more virtual meetings, and the things you can’t – the stock market, the spread of the virus, other people’s actions.
  2. Take time away, alone or with loved ones, to reflect and recharge. Use time in nature to refresh (and avoid viruses!). Be kind to yourself and treat yourself to something you enjoy. Self-care is essential in times of stress. When we are chronically stressed, our immune systems weaken which makes us more vulnerable to illness. Taking care of yourself – eating well, sleeping enough and resting, is vital for long-term success.
  3. Develop healthy social connections. Don’t feed the negativity monster, your own or other’s. Negativity is contagious. But the good news is: so is positivity! Try to avoid the “doom and gloom” folks and surround yourself with positive thinkers. For every negative thought, take a moment to think of a counter-balancing positive thought. If the team is stressed because the client has cancelled a crucial face-to-face meeting? Then focus on the opportunity to really present creatively over a video conference.  
  4. Incorporate meditation and mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Adopt the five-minute STOP – stop, take a breath, observe, be present. Learn to practice “interoception”, which is the process of becoming aware of one’s own body. Mindfulness and meditation can help us become aware of our body’s signals (what feels tight? where do I feel tension?), help regulate our body’s responses to stressors (regulate breathing and release tension in muscles) and shift our focus to the present instead of future worries. If you’re new to mindfulness, use one of the many apps such as Calm or Headspace to get you started.
  5. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Keep your workplace skills up to date so that you can take advantage of new opportunities. Think about how you will need to change your environment if you are asked to work at home. Form backup plans for the possibility that schools might close, or after-school activities are cancelled. The Scouts were right with their motto: Be Prepared. You may not need to use your preparations, but it sure beats being caught unaware and not having alternative plans put in place.

Dealing with uncertainty is essentially dealing with stress. And stress is not going away any time soon. Creating healthy adaptations to stress now can lead to resilience in the future. Resilience can help one not only deal with our current uncertainty, but also assist in recovering from everyday setbacks and conflict that are inherent in the work environment. Resilient people are successful people. Now go wash your hands!

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