Living with uncertainty
Writing from Melbourne, Australia where we have just entered our third lockdown period early in 2021, I’ve been drawn into a reflection of what it is to live with this constant and pervasive sense of uncertainty that we are all getting unhappily used to thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The language us Australian’s have been getting accustomed to this year is “snap lockdown”.
Even the language is a bit immediate and unsettling somehow.
I woke up on Friday with this nagging thought that a lockdown was coming, probably because I had so many extra things to juggle that I knew would cause such disruption if a lockdown, snap or otherwise was called. I was attending the first day of a four-day professional development workshop in the city where our trainer had flown in from Brisbane to work with us. 13 therapists in a room, all of whom work with couples who have certainly felt the pressure of 2020, whether from lockdown cabin-fever, financial pressures or home-schooling stress. When the news started trickling through during our lunchbreak there was a collective intake of breath, and a strong sense of “ugh, here we go again”. A number of us reported being aware of a strong visceral response – I felt goosebumps from my arms, up my neck and into my scalp.
Reflecting on this response on my way home I connected to an awareness that our collective set-point around our latent and utterly human intolerance to uncertainty hadn’t settled much since last year. At a neuroscience level, uncertainty = anxiety. Not anxiety in a clinical diagnosis sense, but from the perspective that as human beings we all crave clarity and certainty. That’s what makes us feel safe and secure. Last year’s shenanigans were anything but certain.
We all have our own individual level of IUT (Intolerance of Uncertainty) based on our own epigenetic make-up and lived experiences, however it’s commonly accepted that wherever our IUT levels used to sit, they’re now probably a bit higher (maybe significantly higher) than it used to be. And so, when snap lockdowns get called, we respond from a more heightened place than we might expect. Perhaps it’s that strange sense of trying to create safety that drove people to still raid the toilet rolls in the supermarket on Friday afternoon?
The incredible Stephen Porges (2013) has said, “when we’re safe, magical things occur”. Safety is the antidote to this cycle, and we need to do all we can to create as much of it as possible in these very uncertain times. It doesn’t have to be a particularly grand or complex this sense of safety. It just needs to be enough for now – today and the next few days or weeks. We don’t have all the answers – even before COVID-19 we didn’t have all the answers – we just need to do a really good job of our inner-talk to help settle our nervous system enough that it feels safe enough for today. And sometimes we have to do that many times a day, every day during these unsettling times.
I recognise that is all very good in theory – I’m going to do my best this week to share some more practical tips about how to manage anxiety in these uncertain times – and of course if you need a session or two with me or one of the team at Thea Baker Wellbeing, please reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03 9077 8194.