Uncertainty is disheartening. It’s frustrating to watch things we’ve hoped and dreamed of falling apart, especially when there’s nothing we can do to stop it and no real idea of when it will end. Dr. Sandra Gilliland, a counsellor, recently spoke in an online WHEN outreach event where she encouraged listeners towards the supernatural peace of God in the midst of anxiety. I followed up with her afterward to learn more about the topic of taking care of your mental health in times of uncertainty. She had a number of helpful suggestions for flourishing when it’s hard to hope. These practices can be helpful for anyone, no matter where you are on your journey with mental health or what challenges you currently face.
Acknowledge your emotions
The first step is to check in with ourselves. Taking inventory of how we’re doing emotionally can give us permission to say ‘I’m ok’, or ‘this is a bad day’. This action seems simple, but by doing it, we’re giving ourselves space and freedom to have emotions instead of shutting them down or blocking them out.
Dr. Sandra also emphasizes the importance of accepting all feelings, not just the ones we’re comfortable with. “It’s dangerous to see emotions as bad or good,” she says. “Trying to avoid ‘bad’ at all costs short circuits my ability to feel everything I can feel, which limits my ability to communicate.”
This is especially important when it comes to comparisons. It can be easy to dismiss your feelings when they don’t seem as extreme as someone else’s. Particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, many of us have been impacted in different ways. Weddings were delayed, graduations postponed, trips cancelled. But even if you didn’t face a drastic disappointment, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to feel upset. You deserve the emotional space to breathe.
Control what you can control
Once we’ve been able to acknowledge how we’re feeling, the next step is to understand that we won’t always feel this way. “Feelings are not a permanent state of being,” Dr. Sandra says. “Recognizing that allows us to move forward and then say ‘what can I now look forward to’ with hope.” That’s where this season has been particularly difficult — we don’t know when this will be over, and when normal will be ‘normal’ again. Everything feels out of our control.
That’s when you can start to ask yourself what you can control. Dr. Sandra’s advice is to start by creating structure for yourself. “It’s really easy to live every day in the unending nebulous, so make some intentional choices. Get up at the same time each day. Get outside, go for a walk, stimulate yourself academically.” Even if you aren’t in school, read something that challenges your thinking, or do something outside your comfort zone. Add structure to your life in the ways you can.
Be kind to yourself
Remember that it’s ok not to be perfect. If you miss a day or two of your planned exercise program, you aren’t a failure. It can feel really discouraging to not fulfill goals we’ve set for ourselves, but being kind to yourself and taking care of your mental health is more important. It’s a journey, not an instant fix.
Taking care of your mental health is possible. Even in times when we feel overwhelmed by uncertainty, there are actions we can take to set ourselves up for success. Take the time to acknowledge your emotions, remind yourself to control what you can control, and practice being kind to yourself through it all.
Finally, and most importantly, Dr. Sandra shares her most significant piece of comfort: even when we feel out of control and disappointed by the situation we’re in, God is still in control. “He has a plan and a future for all of us in these things. There is hope in the midst of our uncertainty.”