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How to minimise overwhelm in a time of massive uncertainty

​I’m sure we can all agree that the current situation with the coronavirus is entirely unprecedented. Things that just a few weeks ago seemed bizarre in the extreme have become our new “current” normal. The speed of change and the extent of disruption is anxiety-provoking for many, especially because what we thought we knew yesterday may be entirely redundant by tomorrow.

In situations of uncertainty, it is completely normal to feel uncomfortable, anxious and worried. It is important that we acknowledge the genuine fears that are circulating, because they relate to our foundations as a human race: health, financial stability, social connection, belonging. In a world where we don’t know what is coming next, and our usual way of being is completely disrupted, let’s all give ourselves some space to feel whatever we are feeling.

That said, it is important to try to put some boundaries around our fear, so it doesn’t lead us to become completely overwhelmed. Whilst overwhelm presents itself in different ways, it can look, sound and feel like:

  • physical symptoms such as stomach pains and headaches;
  • cognitive symptoms like not being able to concentrate or make a decision;
  • emotional symptoms like feeling like you are on the verge of tears or in danger of lashing out at the smallest of provocations; or
  • behavioural symptoms like making silly mistakes or being thoroughly inefficient.

All of these responses are understandable, normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.

The question is: what can we do about it?

The sense of powerlessness that accompanies uncertainty can be paralysing. Whilst I want to acknowledge that there are many things we cannot control, and I do not in any way seek to trivialise or minimise the genuine fears people are experiencing, I want to encourage everyone to consider small points of leverage that are available to us that may help us to navigate these uncharted waters.

Overwhelm truly takes hold when we become passive and allow our fears to be our focus.

The key to avoiding this is to DO.

One of the most powerful ways to change the way you are feeling is to change the things you are doing. Move, breathe, appreciate: these are all simple but powerful ways of staying in control of your emotions and thus not succumbing to the paralysis of overwhelm. 

So, in the spirit of doing, here is my imperfect and incomplete initial list of suggested things to do to avoid becoming completely overwhelmed:

  1. Take mini self-care breaks throughout the day, to sit, breathe and not think. Self-care is not a luxury (ever) and is especially important when things are so challenging. 
  2. Actively seek opportunities to help others. Nothing will reduce your fear like distraction and being of service to someone else. 
  3. Write a list of the things you have been putting off until a rainy day and consider whether self-isolation may represent that rainy day. (I know sorting out my dreaded plastics cupboard is looming as a genuine option in the event of a lockdown!)
  4.  Call someone you have been meaning to call – connection in a time of massive disconnection can make a big impact. 
  5. Support local businesses, where and when you can.
  6.  Spend time outside in the fresh air. 
  7. Plan fun things to do with your loved ones in the event that you need to self-isolate. There are many great ideas floating around, but get creative and find something that appeals to your family. (I’m anticipating a mini-cricket marathon tournament at our place if and when Queensland schools are closed.)
  8.  Consider what books you can read, courses you can do, or masterpieces you can create. Can this time be one of personal growth and development? 
  9. If your job/livelihood is in jeopardy – take the time to freshen up your CV, take inventory of your career aspirations, and think creatively about what your next step may be. Granted, you may need to wait for the pandemic to pass to put this into action, but making plans for the future puts us in a forward-thinking and problem-solving mindset, which is good for your well-being now.
  10.  If you own a small business, look for ways to innovate, recreate, repurpose, redesign your offerings. 
  11. Keep a gratitude journal – even in the midst of the chaos and confusion, find little gems for which you can be grateful.  
  12.  Start an online book-club. There are many free online platforms that can facilitate online group catchups. 
  13. Exercise.

I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other options. The idea is to be proactive in looking for opportunities to DO things which create a sense of achievement, control, joy or peace. The reality is, we don’t know what is coming next, but we can take little steps to maximise our “okayness” in the moment. Taking care of ourselves is paramount, but so is taking care of each other, so if your “doing” results in helping someone else, that’s even better!  

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