Coping with the Stress of Uncertainty

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We are living in times of great uncertainty. Over the past eighteen months, the global pandemic has caused a vast loss of life, economic decline, and widespread isolation from loved ones. There have additionally been riots, violence, political unrest, and environmental disasters.

This year’s American Psychological Association (APA) Stress in America Poll further indicates that a secondary health crisis is transpiring as the stress of uncertainty takes its toll.

The Impact of Stress on Mind and Body

Prolonged stress severely affects us physiologically and psychologically. Persistent stress impacts every organ and component of the human body and is known to cause chronic pain, a suppressed immune system, fatigue, digestive issues, cardiovascular complications, and high blood pressure.[1]

Chronic stress additionally leads to anxiety, depression, anger, panic attacks, diminished sex drive, disordered eating, substance use, decreased energy, and a lack of concentration.[2]  Interestingly, research has shown that the fear of losing one’s job promotes a greater stress reaction than actually losing the job.[3]

When our brains perceive uncertainty as a threat, our automatic survival response kicks in. Stress-related hormones such as stress and adrenaline are released, which instigates a barrage of physiological and psychological patterns designed to help us defeat or escape from the threat. This includes an increased heart rate, elevated breathing rate, and an increase in blood and oxygen being sent to our muscles and major organs so that we are primed for response.

APA Stress Poll Findings

APA’s annual nationwide survey aims to understand the stress levels across America by examining the sources and impact of stress as well as the various behaviors people use to cope.

APA’s prominent Mind/Body/Health campaign promotes awareness and understanding of the implications stress has on both the mind and body.

A high proportion of U.S. adults reported negative behavioral changes related to prolonged stress, including weight gain or loss, increased drinking, lack of sleep, and the onset of mental health issues due to an inability to cope in the absence of support.[4]

Some of the key findings from 2021’s stress report include:[5]

  • 61% of U.S. adults report undesired weight changes.
  • 25% of essential workers were diagnosed with a mental health condition.
  • 75% of essential workers and 74% of parents lacked emotional support.
  • 34% of parents received treatment from a mental health professional.
  • 48% of parents reported increased alcohol consumption.
  • Black adults are most likely to report concerns about the future.
  • 53% of U.S. adults have been less physically active.
  • 47% faced delayed or canceled medical services.

The poll demonstrates that essential workers, parents, and people of color are more likely to experience mental and physical health issues due to pandemic stressors. 

Parents are of particular concern, as the pandemic restrictions imposed have been disproportionately challenging for this demographic. Homeschooling, social distancing, lockdown situations, economic difficulty, and social restrictions are especially challenging for families.[6]

Numerous studies have demonstrated a direct correlation between parental stress and the elevated risk of child abuse, substance use, domestic violence, and trauma-related mental health issues.[7]

Ways to Cope with Stress and Uncertainty

None of us has the power to avoid uncertainty, change, or the complexities of life. However, following these simple tips can help you face the unknown with more confidence and ease.

  • Practice acceptance – Change and uncertainty are a part of life. Everything in our world is transient, and very little is under our control. This can be a difficult and perhaps frightening truth. However, once accepted, it is liberating. Meditation is a beneficial tool when facing the transitory nature of life and helps build inner resilience due to its focus on the present moment and enjoyment of what we have.
  • Be specific – When confronted with unknowns, we tend to lose perspective. For example, when faced with a potential job loss, instead of focusing on the particular issue of losing one’s job we translate this fear into various other aspects of life. We start telling ourselves stories, ruminating, and imagining all sorts of catastrophic outcomes. This is neither helpful nor realistic. Return to the specific issue and focus on the thoughts, feelings, and emotions which correlate directly.
  • Focus on your sphere of influence – With the specific uncertainty in mind, ask yourself which aspects of the situation are within your control and which are outside of it. The issues that you cannot control should be deprioritized as your sphere of influence is too small. Instead, turn your attention to the areas that you can change and strategize the best way forward. Even small things like tidying the house, weeding the garden, and making a meal plan will boost your confidence.
  • Be kind  – We all have varying levels of tolerance to stress and react to events differently. Think about periods of success in your life and situations where you overcame challenges. Remind yourself of your strengths and the times you or others have been proud of your accomplishments. Be kind to yourself, be patient with your reactions, and try to extend this compassion to others in your life.
  • Limit news exposure – Avoid the news at vulnerable times of the day, such as first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Try not to check up on any news stories that you know will trigger stress in you. This is not being ignorant; it is practicing vital self-care.
  • Self-care – Healthy daily routines must be prioritized. Ensuring you get enough sleep, nutritious foods, and exercise while avoiding intoxicants will mean you are primed to face the day.  
  • Seek support – Often, people become isolated when they are stressed or anxious. However, it is essential that you ask for help when needed. Whether it be family, friends, colleagues, or a therapist, we all need the help of others to weather the storm.

If you are concerned about any issues discussed in this blog, please contact Heather R. Hayes & Associates. Call 800-335-0316 or email info@heatherhayes.com.

Sources

[1] Zafar, Muhammad Shahid et al. “Impact of Stress on Human Body: A Review”. European Journal Of Medical And Health Sciences, vol 3, no. 3, 2021, pp. 1-7. European Open Science Publishing, doi:10.24018/ejmed.2021.3.3.821.

[2] Hammen, Constance et al. “Chronic and Acute Stress and the Prediction of Major Depression in Women”. Depression and Anxiety, vol 26, no. 8, 2009, pp. 718-723. Wiley, doi:10.1002/da.20571. Accessed 10 Sept 2021.

[3] Carter, Christine. “Seven Ways to Cope with Uncertainty”. Greater Good, 2020, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/seven_ways_to_cope_with_uncertainty.

[4] “One Year On: Unhealthy Weight Gains, Increased Drinking Reported by Americans Coping with Pandemic Stress”. Https://Www.Apa.Org, 2021, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/03/one-year-pandemic-stress.

[5] “March 2021 Stress in America Infographics”. Https://Www.Apa.Org, 2021, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2021/infographics-march.

[6] Calvano, Claudia et al. “Families in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Parental Stress, Parent Mental Health and the Occurrence of Adverse Childhood Experiences—Results of a Representative Survey in Germany”. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2021. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s00787-021-01739-0. Accessed 10 Sept 2021.

[7] Beland L-PB, Abel S, Haddad J, Mikola D (2020) Covid-19, family stress and domestic violence: remote work, isolation and bargaining power. In: GLO Discussion Paper. Essen

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