5 Tips for Students on Managing Uncertainty and Pandemic Anxiety

There is no denying that we are living in uncertain times, and many don’t know where to start with managing uncertainty and pandemic anxiety. No one knows exactly how or when the pandemic will end, or what it will mean for our lives and the lives of our loved ones in the future. There’s so much to worry about: health, finances, politics, and even our social fabric. I know I’m not the only one lying awake at night asking myself how we will get through this and what the world will look like when it’s over, or waking up wondering how to get through another day of dealing with the everyday while constant uncertainty swirls in the background.

Being a student during this time adds an extra layer of insecurity. Students in 2020 face many added difficulties in their education, including feeling unsafe at school, adjusting to foreign online learning systems, balancing online and in-person learning, and how to handle their teachers or peers getting sick and even dying. If any of this anxiety sounds familiar, these five tips for students about managing uncertainty may be helpful.

Take Time to Reflect

Check in with yourself and get in touch with how you’re feeling. Reflecting both on what’s hard and on what’s still good can be extremely helpful for managing uncertainty, whether that’s in a journal, through meditation, or by talking to friends and loved ones. It doesn’t matter how you reflect, as long as you make the time to pause and take stock in the midst of a crisis.

For students who feel overwhelmed at the thought of adding journaling to their already brimming lists of daily tasks, consider bullet journaling or other shortened forms of journaling. Some mental health experts say journaling is helpful even if you only write down one or two lines about how you’re feeling each day. Alternatively, bullet journaling limits your thoughts to quick bullet points only. For more information on bullet journaling for students, please click here.

Managing uncertaintyDon’t “Should” On Yourself

There’s no right way to get through a difficult time. Some people are able to turn their nervous energy into productivity, while others feel frozen or too weighted down by anxiety to accomplish any more than the bare minimum.

In this case, it’s essential to let go of the pressure of other people’s expectations. There are a plethora of messages out there of what you should be doing, but treating “should” as a bad word can help you be kinder to yourself about productivity. Not everyone has started baking their own sourdough each week or written a novel while in quarantine, and that is absolutely okay.

Know When (And How) to Shut It Down

If you catch yourself obsessing about what you should be doing, consider what you actually want to be doing–a novel concept, I know. Make a list of things that take your mind off your worries during uncertain times. This could be anything from watching trashy TV or listening to gentle music to going to bed early or sitting down with an adult coloring book. Some days are just about surviving, and your brain needs that break in order to be productive at another time.

You could even choose a time of day to be done worrying about the uncertainty of things. For example, if you catch your mind counting your worries after 7pm, remind yourself kindly that you’ve devoted enough energy to worrying already today, and that you deserve a break. Then redirect yourself towards one of the activities on your list. That might mean zoning out with a movie, ordering takeout, taking a bath, eating cereal for dinner–whatever you need to do to accept that on some days, you only have so much bandwidth.

Find Your Circle

It is essential for students struggling right now to connect with people who can lift them up and point them in the right direction. They could be fellow students, friends, family members, or strangers within an online support group. It’s important to remember we are not alone.

If you don’t talk to others, you’re not understanding that there are millions of Americans who have landed here as well. This is what is so significant about this moment in time with the pandemic–it has pulled back the cover, and we are only just now seeing all the fault lines that were always there.

Take Time to Make Sense of Things

It can be tempting to rush through an uncertain situation and try to make it seem certain, to fill in blanks and try to leap ahead to what might be next. It is in human nature to try to discern meaning in everything–we can’t help but draw lessons and create meanings from every single situation we find ourselves in.

This is not a helpful strategy for managing uncertainty, however, because sometimes there isn’t a reason. Sometimes, things are just hard. Don’t try to fast forward, don’t run through scenarios of doom, don’t get sucked into that cycle of what-ifs. One strategy for doing this is to use the container exercise. Picture in your mind any kind of container you like–just make sure it has a lid. Imagine placing all of your fears into the container and closing the lid, with the understanding that you will return to them at a later time–just not right now.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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