Coping strategies for managing uncertainty during the festivities

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With the uncertainty of the new Omicron variant and the festivities upon us it is ever so important, perhaps now more than ever, to look after ourselves properly. It could be that you are feeling a lot of pressure for Christmas to be ‘perfect’ this year, or you may be feeling uncertain about socialising, or maybe Christmas is a just a difficult time for you or your loved ones generally. Whatever the case, here are some simple tips that you can put in place to help manage any difficult feelings of uncertainty.

But before we go into any advice, the very first step is to check in with how you are feeling, right here and right now. Often this time of year is so busy that we don’t take a second to reflect on how we are really doing.

So, ask yourself, is there anything that is causing you worry or anxiety right now? What thoughts are running through your mind? How are you feeling in your body? Have you changed any of your usual behaviours recently?

Writing these down can be helpful to see how we’re feeling on paper. The sooner we can recognise if we’re not feeling ourselves, the sooner we can put in place some tips and techniques to help.

Manage your worry

Worry is common all year round, but can be particularly difficult over the festive period, especially in the midst of a pandemic. There are two different types of worry.

1) Hypothetical worries are worries that are usually future focused and start with ‘what if’. For example, ‘what if my family aren’t able to be together on Christmas day?’ or ‘what if it snows and we’re not able to travel?’. It isn’t that these worries aren’t important to us, because they absolutely are. Rather these worries are in the future, and no matter how much we worry about them in this very moment, it will not change the outcome. We can manage this type of worry with a technique which is called Worry Time. This technique focuses on still worrying but worrying at a time that is controlled by us rather than the worry controlling our time. This technique helps us to gain back valuable time and energy that we would spend on worrying.

2) Practical worries are worries that we can physically do something about. For example, ‘my car is making a knocking sound and I’m worried we might break down’. With these worries we’re able to use a technique which is called problem solving, to put a plan into place to help. We problem solve every single day, but when we’re feeling overwhelmed this can be difficult to do, therefore this technique allows us to take a step back and problem solve, step by step.

Managing worry isn’t easy. Often, we can be teaching our brain a whole new way to think, so don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while to perfect.

Concentrate on what is within your control

It may feel that there is a lot that is out of your control right now. But the important thing is to concentrate on the things you can control. For instance, you can focus on what is in your power to control right now and what is important to you and the people closest to you. Sticking to routines can also help us to manage uncertainty, as can setting goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time based) too. But don’t set yourself goals that are too difficult as this will only make things feel worse. Set goals and targets that you can achieve, and then allow yourself to feel a sense of achievement when you achieve them.

If things are feeling overwhelming, or you’re struggling with low mood and motivation, try breaking things right down, planning in your tasks into a diary and starting with the things that feel the easiest. These things then should start to feel easier, and your motivation should slowly and gradually start to return.

Practice gratitude

Research shows that there are so many reasons to practice gratitude. With the world around us feeling uncertain, focusing our attention on our constants, or even small positives can really help to re-shape our thoughts, which overall has a huge impact on how we’re feeling.
Take the time, daily if you can, to reflect on three key things that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything super positive or exceptional, it could be taking a moment to be grateful for the air in your lungs or the coffee in your mug.

Be mindful

Mindfulness is about being in the present moment. With the world so busy around us, especially during the festive periods it may feel harder to find the time to be in the here and now. By practicing mindfulness, you can step away from all the thoughts and feelings you may be experiencing and concentrating on how you feel in this very moment. Mindfulness is a little like standing in a field staring up at the clouds passing you by. Your thoughts are those clouds, and you can let them come and go without the need to fight them or push them away.
A technique that can be used anywhere, without the aid of guided mindfulness is by tuning into your five senses. Take a couple of minutes to reflect on

• Five things you see
• Four things you can touch
• Three things you hear
• Two things you smell
• One thing you taste

By taking the time to notice these things, it will bring you back into the present moment and allow you to feel grounded in the here and now.

Don’t struggle alone

Most importantly never struggle alone. There are plenty of people out there who can support you, such as your local NHS services or charities. Just talking about how you are feeling is a strength which can helps you to take control of your wellbeing and look after the health of your mind.

Author: Lucie Ironman, Psychological Wellbeing Facilitator at Vita Health Group

Additional resources

https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/difficult-feelings-about-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

For more information about the worry time and practical problem-solving techniques see this self help guide – https://talkchanges.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Worry-Management.pdf

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