Finding Hope in Uncertain Times: Ten tips on coping with change from the Canadian Mental Health Association
It seems there is a lot more uncertainty in the world today: government leaders around the globe divide opinions, concerns of terrorism are on the rise, and bigger policy changes are happening in many Western countries. It’s on the news, across social media platforms, in conversations with family, friends, and co-workers. The more we tune in, the more we notice even minor issues becoming amplified until every single comment can feel like another step towards catastrophe. As a result, some people today say that they look to the future with a sense of unease and uncertainty.
“Living life on the edge of catastrophe is a very effective way to feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed,” says Sarah Hamid-Balma, Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) BC Division. “For those who want to take action, it can be hard to see exactly how to respond effectively when so many changes are happening at national levels. This only adds to experiences of powerlessness, hopelessness, or uncertainty.”
CMHA BC offers ten tips on finding hope and taking a step back to look at the bigger picture.
Take action on factors or variables you do control. “Uncertainty is not helplessness. You may not be able to change outcomes or predict the future on a larger scale, but there may still be pieces you can control,” says Hamid-Balma. For example, you can’t predict or control a natural disaster like an earthquake. An unhelpful response is to do nothing but worry about the possibility. An empowering response is to assemble an emergency kit for your home, make a plan with your family, and educate yourself on earthquake safety.
Think critically and check the facts—even when you agree with the message. Just because it looks like news or calls itself news doesn’t mean it really is news. Many messages are meant to appeal to emotions rather than facts. Critical thinking skills—like looking at the author and the evidence behind the message—can help you evaluate claims and separate opinions, rumours, and fake news from factual news.
Your needs come first. If you have a hard time prioritizing your own care, consider disconnecting from social media, turning off the news, setting your phone aside, or scheduling self-care for a specific period of time each day. Remember that you can contribute or help others most effectively when you are taking care of yourself.
A little radical acceptance can go a long way. “There will always be uncertainty, upsetting or scary stories in the news, hurtful comments, and conflicting opinions. Getting angry or upset hurts you, but it doesn’t actually change whatever angered or upset you,” says Hamid-Balma. Holding onto that anger or fear only traps you in the past. Instead, acknowledge that it happened and the feelings it evoked, acknowledge that you can’t change the past or other people, and acknowledge what you might be able to do now. Acceptance is also one feature of mindfulness, a skill anyone can practice to live more fully in the present moment.
Choose your battles wisely. Recognize when investing time and energy is helpful and when it can be harmful. You probably won’t change someone’s mind arguing on social media, for example. “A more likely outcome is that you will walk away feeling angry or upset,” says Hamid-Balma.
Focus on realistic actions you can take to contribute to change. Chances are, there is something you can do to contribute to your cause. If you’re concerned about a political situation, you might join a local organization, attend a public lecture to learn more, donate to a charity that is actively trying to help, or write to your MLA or MP.
Look back at other problems you’ve navigated. Chances are, you’ve coped with uncertainty in the past, whether in your personal life or during previous times of global unrest. Looking back, how do you feel about those situations now? We are all more resilient than we think. Find strength in your accomplishments.
Look at safety realistically. It’s easy to feel unsafe if you focus on stories about fear. The real risk of harm may not be as great as it seems, so it’s a good idea to look at the situation from a more realistic perspective. Talking to others can be helpful in seeing other perspectives. Unfortunately, though, some groups do experience real threats. Consider reaching out to community organizations or government leaders if you have concerns, and seek help for yourself. No one deserves to live in fear.
Know your own values. Own what matters most to you and live those values as best you can every day. If you value diversity and inclusion, for example, think of ways you can support those values. You might join a community organization, support an advocacy group, or use the opportunity to talk to children or youth in your life about what’s going on and what you believe.
Seek help when you need it. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you need help coping with stress, anxiety, or other concerns that impact your well-being.
About the author
The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit www.cmha.bc.ca.