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Weekly Wellness # 9:How to Deal with the Ambiguity of the Relaunch

Published: May 15, 2020 3:27 p.m.
Filed under: Weekly Wellness COVID-19

It is definitely okay to have mixed feelings about the evolving situation, but we also need to recognize that we still have a lot of things in our control. Focusing on identifying what is the right way for us, and our families, to proceed is an empowering opportunity to practice tolerating the ambiguity in the world.

For two months we have re-arranged our lives and done our part to “flatten the curve” – and our sacrifices have paid off. Society is slowly beginning to open up again! As we continue to learn more information each day about what the upcoming weeks and months will look like, we are also grappling with a high level of uncertainty. 

Some of us are very excited to access services again, and even frustrated that it is not happening faster. Some of us are very concerned that these changes are coming too fast, and are wary of how to proceed.

Many of us have mixed feelings.

Even though the need for physical distancing made our lives very restrictive, at least the expectations were quite clear. Being allowed to venture back into the public domain with many cautions and evolving guidelines, means that we all must navigate more and more decisions. 

When we are given clear-cut instructions it makes our decision-making easier. The current ambiguity requires us to use our judgment throughout every day, and this can be anxiety-provoking for us and our children. So how do we deal with this uncertainty?

We all need to weigh the risks and benefits of the actions we take each day – and this reality is more clear than ever. Around the world, families are asking themselves: How do we maximize our lives right now, in a responsible way that minimizes risk to ourselves and others?  The specific answers to this question are different for every family – we all need to make our own decisions.

So as we move forward in uncertain times, we are all learning to tolerate more ambiguity. Tolerating ambiguity is an important life skill that is related to good mental health. We cannot completely take away risk or worry from ourselves (or our children), and we shouldn’t.  The goal is to learn to manage it. 

Unhealthy amounts of anxiety are produced when we overestimate the risks we may face while underestimating our own resources. The way in which we view the current circumstances, and the language we use, is important.

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. — William James

It is definitely okay to have mixed feelings about the evolving situation, but we also need to recognize that we still have a lot of things in our control. Focusing on identifying what is the right way for us, and our families, to proceed is an empowering opportunity to practice tolerating the ambiguity in the world.

Q.  How can we get better at tolerating ambiguity?

A.  The current situation is a great way to model healthy thinking strategies for the young people in our home. Help them think about the basic principles that drive decision-making, such as:

  • What are the current guidelines from the province?  You read them here.
     
  • What is the right timeline for us?  Just because things are starting to open up, doesn’t mean you have to do everything at once.  Take the time to figure out what is right for you.
     
  • What can we do to make sure that we are continuing to challenge ourselves? Exposure to a little discomfort each day is a great way to practice tolerating some anxiety and reminding ourselves that we can do it.
     
  • What are your values? Identify which activities are most important to you and your well-being that you would want to prioritize.

Q.  How do we support our children/teens during the relaunch?

A.  Here are some ideas, depending on their concerns:

  • When kids have big worries we need to find the tricky balance between acknowledging their feelings without supporting their fears.  Don’t over-promise or constantly reassure, but do help them recognize what is in their control.  What to do (and not to do) when children are anxious
     
  • Prepare them for how the public world is looking different - lots of masks and gloves, stores limiting the number of people inside, etc….  Frame these new realities for them in a way that admits it is surprising and may take a while to adjust to, but that also emphasizes the value of these precautions to keep everyone safe. These changes are a sign that we are all working together to triumph over the virus.
     
  • As the guidelines continue to evolve over the upcoming weeks, discuss these as a family and establish household expectations together.
     
  • If your teen is impatient to get back out in the world, and you are not sure how well they will follow the recommended precautions, have them do some research and make a proposal to you about how they can safely engage in activities.
     
  • If your child tends to get caught in “black and white thinking”, help them embrace the grey! Encourage them to keep their world ‘big’, and support their long-term resilience by challenging them to do uncomfortable things, and involving them in conversations that weigh the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of different decisions. 
     
  • Encourage your child/teen to be accepting of the different reactions others will have over the next couple of months. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hinshaw, often reminds the public to “be kind to one another” - each of us will make different decisions based upon our own unique circumstances, and we need to continue to support each other.

If YOU have a question that you would like to see answered in a future Weekly Wellness, you can submit it here:  I have a question!