6 practical tips for guarding your mental health during times of uncertainty

As human beings, we are wired to try and make sense of our surroundings and to plan for the future. While there is nothing wrong with that, we need to make sure that when life tosses us a curveball and everything we know is thrown up in the air, we have some strategies in place to deal with the unknown and protect our minds. 

Of course, not everyone deals with times of uncertainty in exactly the same way. Some are able to cope with change and unpredictability without too much trouble. For others, however, volatile circumstances can set the conditions for something of an emotional perfect storm and trigger a rapid decline in their mental health. With this in mind, here are few general tips to help you look after your emotional well-being when everything feels in disarray.

1. Cultivate a daily rhythm 

We are creatures built for routine. Plus, when all structure goes out the window, the first thing to suffer is our mental health. In these times of uncertainty, when anxiety is crouching at the door, routine is more important than ever. 

Research indicates that regular body clock disruptions can make people susceptible to various mood disorders, lower levels of happiness and greater feelings of loneliness. So, a good start would be to set your alarm for the same time every morning. This will ensure your circadian rhythm ⁠— the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and dramatically affects your mood ⁠— is on point. Try and eat meals at the same times, and have some fun activities (even if it’s just ten minutes playing your guitar or reading a favourite book!) regularly in place during your day.

“You cannot be mentally healthy without a routine,” says Canadian psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson in a lecture on the subject. “It’s unbelievable the degree to which our sanity depends on our sociological structure. You need structure, you need predictability, and you need more of it than you think.” 

“You need structure, you need predictability, and you need more of it than you think.”

— Dr. Jordan Peterson

When things feel out of control around you, a good daily structure can bring tremendous peace of mind. 

2. Exercise

The benefits of exercise are well documented from a scientific standpoint. Physical activity releases brain chemicals called endorphins which reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings in the body. They are almost like a natural antidepressant. In times of uncertainty, exercise has the power to widen your mental landscape and shift your perspective to one that is more conducive to hope rather than catastrophe. 

Obviously, exercise keeps your body fit and healthy and staves off illness by boosting your immune system. However, its role as a means to improve mental health and guard your mind from excessive worry or overthinking is certainly something to consider. According to the CDC, regular exercise will also “reduce your risk of depression and help you sleep better.” Sounds pretty good to me.

3. Control your information intake (particularly the news)

With the rise of technology, an endless ocean of information has become available to us at the press of a button. At times of uncertainty, when your anxiety levels may already be prone to spiking, ingesting a vast quantity of chaos-infused news can be extremely detrimental to your mental health. Unfortunately, news outlets deal primarily in drama, negativity and scaremongering. As such, an overzealous news junkie who is saturating themselves with negative stories and images may notice their mood is becoming negatively affected.

Working in the news myself, I often excuse an excessive information intake as simply “part of the job.” The reality is, I should practice more discipline in this area for the good of my own mind. Many mental health charities suggest turning off push notifications from news sites (except from The First), giving yourself a limit to the number of times you scan the bulletins, or even leaving your phone in a separate room when you go to bed. 

Social media, too, can be detrimental to mental health. For many, it triggers “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and can also increase the pressure we feel to match those who appear to be “killing it” on a daily basis.

4. Practice being present in the moment

For those of an anxious disposition, “what if” thinking is a constant battle. Indeed, this is compounded when uncertain circumstances threaten your preconceived view of the future. When things are unsteady and unknown, catastrophizing and anxious rumination can become the norm. Try being vigilant against those thoughts that begin “what if” — if they start with those two little words, they are probably anxiety-ridden and to be ignored. Breathing exercises, mindfulness and CBT can all help us to practice the discipline of being in the moment. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally to you — our brains are amazing at developing new patterns, so keep at it.

5. Develop a healthy support network 

When you’re struggling with your mental health in times of uncertainty, it is so important to develop a reliable and healthy support network. The simple reality is that, even if you do everything to mitigate feelings of anxiety and lift your mood, emotional strife can still strike at any point, sometimes inexplicably. At these times, you need people around you who you can talk to honestly and without fear of judgement. Even though it’s difficult, overcoming pretense and embracing vulnerability with trusted people can really help. So, look to identify a few key people who you are willing to share the intricacies of your situation with, and ask them to be there to help support you when you need it.

“Even though it’s difficult, overcoming pretense and embracing vulnerability with trusted people can really help.”

6. Remember you are not alone

If you are struggling with anxiety or other mental health challenges, remember you are not the only person. Many millions of people are facing anxiety-inducing uncertainty at any given time. Mental ill health is not failure, it is not weakness and it is not who you are. Try to be kind to yourself, talk to yourself as if you are talking to a close friend, and allow yourself space to take life a bit more slowly when you need to. 

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