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  • Nora Buckley

Storms of Uncertainty

Strengthening Your Tolerance to Uncertainty

As I write this, it is mid-September 2020 and there is only one name left of the National Hurricane Center’s alphabetical list of storm names. So far, this hurricane season has already seen 20 named storms, enough to blow through most of the names assigned to 2020. I am sure none of us is surprised that this year is already breaking records for storms.

It seems that “unprecedented” is the most frequently used word about 2020 – the Covid-19 pandemic, wildfires, storms, unrest, injustice, confusion, constant changes to everyday routines, schools, workplaces, finances .... the year appears to be something of a “perfect storm”.

I have reached an age where I thought I had pretty much seen it all, but Covid-19 all by itself has thrown me totally off kilter.

After months of isolation, I no longer know what day, month or season it is. I feel I have lost spring and summer and we seem to be moving towards fall, the beginning of my seasonal depressive disorder! I forget to put gas in the car at all since I rarely need to; I do not wake up early in the morning anymore and am weary of forcing myself to go to stores pre-dawn in search of Lysol spray or whatever the “impossible to find” item of the week may be.

I am tired of meeting friends outside and wonder what that will be like when the weather gets colder. I can no longer get my dopamine rush from browsing bookstores or strolling the aisles of Costco or Target to see “new and shiny” items – in fact I now dread going to any store. Parents of infants through college students are tearing out their hair over day care changes, remote schooling, on-or off- again in-person schools, and uncertainty as to how long school will remain open if/when it does open. Grandparents are pulling up roots to move near their grandchildren so that they can see them without quarantine restrictions. The “news” makes me want to pull the covers over my head and wish for 2021, or 2019, or, anything different than this.

And in the midst of all of my complaints about the uncertainty of this year is a form of “survivor’s guilt” causing me to wonder what I have to complain about when the covid death toll is something close to 200,000 in the United States alone! So yes, I am very glad to be alive and healthy, and very grateful to the health care workers and first responders and other essential workers dealing with this pandemic first-hand. There is however no denying that as an adult with ADHD, my tolerance for uncertainty was already compromised before the pandemic began.

Lauren Walters, writing in PsychCentral, states that with a scattered thought process and constant restlessness of the mind, it is a challenge for a person with ADHD to handle uncertainty just with one’s daily routine. Her suggested coping skills for this routine type of uncertainty include living in the moment and deep breathing exercises.

Dr David Clark, in Psychology Today, tells us that a low tolerance of uncertainty will heighten anyone’s anxiety about the pandemic. He points out that even under normal circumstances no one is immune to uncertainty about health, relationships, employment, finances, etc.

We have all been living with uncertainty all our lives to some degree. The unique thing about the 2020 pandemic uncertainty is the immense scale of the problem and its consequences. His suggestions about how to strengthen our tolerance of uncertainty in these unprecedented times, for anyone whether ADHD or not, include:

Know your tolerance level.

People differ in their ability to tolerate uncertainty. Those at the low end of the tolerance scale need to connect with family or friends who are more tolerant of uncertainty and learn from them.

Be specific about your uncertainty.

Each of us has our own unique anxiety related to this pandemic – frontline workers, older people with underlying medical conditions, business people whose livelihood is threatened – each has a different set of uncertainties. Rather than taking on the uncertainties of the world, being specific about your own unique worries will make it easier to tolerate them.

Live in the present.

Knowing that the future includes anxiety and uncertainty, try to focus on this week, this day, this hour, and what you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy for this moment.

Focus on resilience.

Remember that the human spirit is remarkably resilient and that we, and our ancestors before us, have faced loss and failure in the past and have survived and adapted, and know that we will survive 2020 as well.

Stay connected.

Our tolerance of uncertainty erodes when we are isolated and stuck inside in our own heads. Reach out to others via any means possible, be it social media, Zoom, or backyard picnics. Recognizing that we are all in this unprecedented situation together and reaching out to each other is the best way to weaken the pull of the misery of uncertainty.

We need to be especially kind to one another in 2020. The saying about how you “never know what someone else is going through” has never been more pertinent. Even the introverts and ADHD folks amongst us (including myself) will benefit greatly from any form of group experience during these times.

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