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Coping with COVID—How to use focus to deal with uncertainty

April 26, 2020

The much-anticipated move into the roaring 20s has seen us confronted by a change that very few Australians have ever encountered. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has struck every individual to the core; we are immersed in it, surrounded by it and—whether willingly or kicking and screaming—we are forced to participate in it. Indeed, mass media is ensuring we are bombarded with constant reminders of human suffering and economic doom leaving us to feel unable to cope and anxious on a daily basis. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, so much about coronavirus is outside of our control. Not just the virus itself, but many of the other aspects of life—from work and finances to socialising and travel—but what we also know is that we are capable of dealing with significant change. Change has been the most perennial force in the evolution of our reality as we know it —each age and each generation is confronted with new levels and types of change. What history has taught us is that human beings are highly adaptive and we can and we will cope.

At times like this, it can be helpful to remember that there are things you can do to deal with the uncertainty. Give yourself credit as you cope with this tough time and recognise that dealing with this challenge will provide much learning for the future and makes us all more resilient.

Focus on what you can control

Managing yourself during this period is being mindful of your inner dialogue. We can perpetuate much anxiety with what we say to ourselves. Yes, these are worrisome times but is it helpful to ruminate about extreme possibilities? What is probably more helpful is to explain things to ourselves in a way that will develop greater resilience and coping mechanisms. Simple words like “I can manage this” change not only the way we see things but can alter our brain chemistry in positive ways and promote emotional and physical wellbeing.

When our self-talk is optimistic and encouraging, it enables us to face challenges such as COVID-19 with greater confidence and resolve. It encourages us to move away uncontrolled chaos to something less pervasive and overwhelming.

Focus on the likely

Martin Seligman, director of Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, suggests a quick-thinking exercise where you focus on the best outcome, then the worst outcome, and then what is potentially likely to happen. He says that it is important to develop a plan for the most realistic scenario. ‘This is different than wasting energy on something that’s unlikely to occur. Rather, it’s coming up with a contingency for what could be a challenging situation. Your plan will depend on your individual circumstances. For instance, do you need to secure child care if you’re sick? If you have to stay at home, do you have enough food and medicine? What does it mean for your job? If you fall into the higher-risk group, will there be someone to care for you should you need it?’ 

All changes, whether global, national or local, impact us personally. But ultimately each of us is responsible for our own predicament and the choices we make. 

 Focus on the routine

When life feels like it’s spinning out of control it's important to ensure you continue with the same everyday routines and habits. These will keep you grounded and focused on those things that are within your control:

  • waking up at the same time every day
  • showering and dressing as if you’re going to your place of work
  • eating regular and nutritious meals
  • reaching out to a friend each day
  • going to bed at the same time
  • doing some form of exercise every morning
  • undertaking a few projects that you’ve always wanted to do

While there may be differing degrees of impact based on the type of change experienced and our ability to deal with change, it's our response to what happens that causes the most amount of stress. It takes confidence and courage to release our stronghold on what was ‘normal’ and accept the current situation to minimise stress.  

Focus on connecting

With so much in a state of flux, all we can do is focus on doing what’s required of us, remaining positive and connecting with others. Support from others has a powerful effect on helping us cope with challenges—the more we talk through our concerns, thoughts, and feelings with others, the more we find helpful ways of thinking about or dealing with stressful situations. We are fortunate to live in a time where physical distance does not mean social disconnection.

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