Shifting Your Focus in Uncertain Times

How many times in the past several months have you thought that you can’t wait until things go back to normal? As August begins and the school year approaches, there are more and more uncertainties related to the coronavirus pandemic. Parents are trying to figure out what options are best for their children – and shuddering at the thought of having to juggle a full-time job at home while educating their children. Teachers are wondering how they’re going to implement masks and social distancing in their classrooms to try to keep everyone safe. While these may be the current concerns coming to the forefront of the pandemic, the reality is, we’re all dealing with extra stress as a result of the uncertainty of this novel coronavirus and when it will end.

We can’t make COVID-19 disappear – and the decisions we need to make surrounding the pandemic aren’t going anywhere. We have to learn to tolerate the level of uncertainty we’re living in – but how?

The answer is to focus on what you can control. For example, I may not be able to control the fact that I’m spending a lot of time at home, but I do have control over my schedule. What will your schedule for each weekday look like? What time will you begin work? Will you exercise? (Even getting out for a walk is good for dealing with anxiety and stress.) What will you have for dinner?

I understand during a pandemic these questions may seem irrelevant. Still, psychology supports the notion that focusing on what you can control shifts your attention away from what is out of your control. Therefore, you have less time to spend envisioning the worst-case scenario – and we’re all good at that, aren’t we?

An important concept I add to this idea of focusing on what you can control is the 80-20 Rule. In most cases, 80 percent of outcomes come as a result of 20 percent of causes. For us, that means small changes in your thinking, and your schedule can go a long way. I want to encourage you to make one small, daily change. It starts with the answer to this question: what is the one thing you can do for yourself every day that will help you feel more emotionally balanced and less stressed or anxious?

Once you’ve identified it, prioritize it. Be disciplined in making time to do that thing. To hear more of my thoughts on the 80/20 Rule, check out a conversation I had with Ana Gil on “Officially-Unofficial.”

If you are struggling with anxiety and stress as a result of the uncertainty of this pandemic, you are not alone. While I am happy to provide insight into how I manage stress, I want to make sure you have the resources you need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a page dedicated to coping with stress filled with resources. If you need help, reach out to a family member or friend. These are tough times for all of us.