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How to Cope with Uncertainties Related to the Pandemic and Reopening

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Combat stress and anxiety with self-compassion.

Since March, Americans—and the world—have been in a sort of stasis, as the pandemic put a pause on many daily life activities. Schools closed, many work places went remote, stay-at-home orders were issued and overall interaction with those outside of our families became minimal. Now, some four months later, restrictions are slowly lifting, leaving many anxious.

As we begin to “re-enter” society, we wonder if kids will return to school in the fall, if jobs are secure, if venturing out will lead to ourselves or loved ones getting sick, if a vaccine will be found, and even how these changes will impact the upcoming presidential election.

These are unprecedented and ambiguous times with few concrete answers. Such ambiguity is leading to increased stress and anxiety for many. Even with so many changes, there are ways to cope and navigate the uncertainty. Here are four tips.

1. Cultivate a flexible mindset.

We can cause a lot of needless misery by being too rigid in our thoughts and feelings. Mental flexibility—learning to go with the flow, without going to the extreme—is associated with higher degrees of self-esteem and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Develop this skill by considering other perspectives and being more flexible with situations—be realistic, rather than imposing your will on everything.

2. Heed your inner wisdom.

We know more than we think we do. Paying attention to our gut instincts allows us to act in ways that reflect our true goals, values and who we want to be. Striking a balance between emotion and reason—with the aid of instincts—is beneficial for decision making in ambiguous situations.

3. Practice radical acceptance.

Without judgement, acknowledge what has happened or what’s currently happening. Fighting reality often leads to needless suffering.

4. Find a silver lining.

Difficult and ambiguous times are opportunities for emotional growth. Ask yourself what the hidden opportunity is in the uncertainty you’re facing. What strengths, resiliencies, or resources do you have? Play to your strengths. Determine what skills you can practice and enhance—like self-compassion—to manage ambiguity.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Paula Durlofsky.

Paula Durlofsky, PhD is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Bryn Mawr. As a practicing therapist for over 18 years, Dr. Durlofsky helps individuals, couples and families reach their full potential for leading lives with passion and purpose. She is also affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau Medical Center, the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and the Women’s Resource Center. Her expert opinions, shared through “Thinking Forward” are based on over two decades of clinical experience and training. Her expertise has been featured in Marie ClaireTeen Vogue, APA’s Monitor on PsychologyExceptional Parenting MagazineMain Line Health, Psych Central, as well as at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and on ABC 10-KXTV.