For anyone dealing with an anxiety disorder, uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges. Uncertainty can be far more unsettling than some definite problem. For example, if you have a job interview next Thursday, you might be extremely anxious about it, but it’s also a concrete event. You have a pretty good idea of the worst possible outcome–you don’t get the job–and what that could mean–you have to keep looking. Whatever the outcome, you know you won’t have to worry about it anymore once the interview is over and you’ve found out the result.
Uncertainty is a different beast. Something bad might happen but you have no idea when it might happen or what the outcome might be. We all live with uncertainty all the time but at the moment, we’re perhaps more aware of it. Much of the world is currently under quarantine to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and both the virus and the lockdown are already having major effects on people’s lives. If you struggle with anxiety and substance use, this is probably an especially hard time. The following are some tips for coping with uncertainty during the quarantine and in general.
As noted above, uncertainty is the normal state of things but we aren’t always aware of it. Even when everything seems right with the world, there is a possibility that we will suddenly get sick, get laid off, or find out a loved one has died. When you do feel distressed by uncertainty, it’s probably because a crisis, like a global pandemic or recession, has brought your attention to it, or perhaps you have an anxiety issue, like generalized anxiety disorder.
That is to say that all the advice that applies to recovery from an anxiety disorder or a substance use disorder applies doubly in the face of other uncertainty. This is especially true of the old AA maxim, “One day at a time.” For decades, people recovering from addiction have known that the idea of staying sober forever is too much pressure; it’s much more manageable to focus on one day–or even one hour–at a time. Similarly, a whole pandemic is too much to think about all at once. Fortunately, we only have to deal with one moment at a time. The more you are able to stay present, the less you will worry about things that may or may not happen.
We are all supposed to be social distancing right now but it’s more important than ever to stay in contact with friends, family, neighbors, sober friends, and therapists. This serves several functions. The first is that it reduces stress and makes you feel less isolated. Problems always feel bigger when you face them alone. The second is that keeping in touch with sober friends, either individually or through virtual meetings, helps keep you accountable and focused on recovery. If you have a therapist, continuing sessions virtually can be a great asset for talking through issues and keeping your anxiety under control. Finally, keeping in touch with the people in your network broadens your resources. If you don’t know what kind of problems you might encounter, you don’t know whose help you might need. Staying in touch and being ready to help others when possible gives you more options for dealing with problems.
It might seem counterintuitive to imagine the worst-case scenario when you’re already anxious but it’s often a helpful exercise. Few actual problems are more threatening than the unknown. Once a problem takes some definite shape, even if it’s pretty bad, it loses some of its menace. Take some time to actually think through the worst things that might happen. When a problem is more concrete, you’ll usually find that even the worst outcome isn’t actually catastrophic or intolerable and you can probably find some way to cope with it. And often, what actually does happen will end up seeming more manageable by comparison.
As noted above, keeping up with your social network helps reduce stress by broadening your resources. In general, the more options you have in any given situation, the less you have to worry. If you’ve thought through your practical vulnerabilities and some of the bad things that might happen, see what options are available to you for solving them if they come up. It might be looking into job options, should you get laid off, or government programs you might be eligible for. You may be able to take some online classes to broaden your skillset. These will all be unique to your situation, so take stock of your assets, including financial assets, relationships, skills, and anything else you might be able to leverage in a crisis. All of these things make up your safety net, and the more options you have, the less you have to worry.
The whole problem with uncertainty is that there’s some nebulous threat “out there” that you can’t quite predict, define, or get a hold of. If you’re too focused on that, you’re definitely going to feel more anxious. Instead, focus on the things you can control, such as some of the things listed here. It might feel that you don’t have control over much, but if you start with the things you do have control over, you may find your circle of influence steadily grows. You will also feel a greater sense of self-efficacy, or control over your life, which also tends to reduce anxiety.
One of the easiest things to control is your daily routine. A regular routine helps you feel like there is some kind of order and predictability in your life, that the world isn’t total chaos. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Eat at regular times, work at regular times–if you’re lucky enough to be working right now–and exercise at regular times. This will help preserve a sense of order and control and it will also help you make healthier lifestyle choices, which are also good for your mental health.
Uncertainty is the normal state of things but we’re not always aware of that fact. The most important thing when facing uncertainty is to try to focus on the present and focus on the things you do have control over. Staying connected and maximizing your options are also great ways to hedge against uncertainty and help you sleep a little better at night.
At Hired Power, we know that life will throw you new challenges in recovery whether you’re ready or not. That’s why we provide services such as recovery assistants, case management, and sober monitoring to help our clients stay sober in the face of life’s uncertainties. To learn more about our services call us at 714-559-3919.
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