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What To Do When Uncertainty Is Intolerable

Under normal circumstances, uncertainty can be a good thing. Being uncertain about an outcome can motivate you to take action toward that outcome, for example. Learning how to cope with uncertainty can improve your decision-making and your well-being. If that’s not enough, embracing a little ambiguity makes you more empathetic and boosts your creativity.

But with much of the world on lockdown, stuck in our homes for an uncertain amount of time, while medical professionals deal with the moral injury of deciding which patients get ventilators and which are left vulnerable to the virus, these are not normal circumstances. These are extraordinary times, in the truest sense of the word. For all of its benefits, uncertainty can also be destructive. It feels bad to not know what our lives might look like a month from now. It’s hard to live in such a precarious state with our jobs and our incomes. Simply put, it’s hard to not know.

In times of extreme uncertainty, the thing that helps the most is feeling like you have some sense of power and control over your situation, feeling like you have autonomy over yourself and your life. This is why, when we’re stressed and tempted to spend impulsively, we don’t go for frivolous, luxury items. We buy cleaning products, according to a 2017 study. “The authors propose that consumers compensate for a loss of perceived control by buying utilitarian products,” the study’s abstract concluded, “because of these products’ association with problem-solving, a quality that promotes a sense of control.” In other words, buying cleaning products helps tidy not just your home, but also your mind.

Under normal circumstances, an obsession with control can be unhealthy because if recent events have taught us anything, it’s that control is largely an illusion. Clinging to that illusion makes us buy things we don’t need. It turns us into workaholics and productivity addicts. But when your entire world has turned upside down, you crave a sense of control nonetheless, and it becomes crucial to find small ways of grasping onto stability.

Even if you know there’s only so much you can do, doing something feels better than doing nothing  — even though, ironically, one of the best ways you can help during this crisis is to stay home and do nothing. 

All of this is to say, all of us at TFD have been focusing on those small, quick and productive things we can do to feel some stability in our environments. And these past few weeks, we’ve been sharing those stories with you. First, we wrote a guide on prioritizing your bills and expenses if you can’t afford them all right now. Even if you haven’t yet lost income from this crisis, there are still some financial moves you can make to protect your money.

Our beat writer, Simplicity Bryan, offered a roundup of useful tips for managing the anxiety-inducing overflow of news and shared 10 free, instructor-led workouts you can do from home. Alyssa Davies, another regular TFD contributor, shared her own step-by-step guide to spring cleaning your pantry  — because what better time to spring clean than when you’re stuck at home, anyway? 

Writer Marissa Gallerani shared some common pitfalls of working from home, including eating at your desk and not setting strict enough boundaries. She also included some solid tips for combatting each obstacle. The staff at TFD shared our stay-at-home “emergency kits,” which is a list of things we’re reading, doing, or watching in order to stave off anxiety.

But because we all need an occasional break from the news, we’ve published some articles that are completely non-covid-related, too. Plant enthusiast Jennifer Calonia wrote this troubleshooting guide that explains why you keep killing your houseplants (and how to stop). And Quinisha Jackson-Wright had an interesting take on why “pay your dues” is terrible career advice, especially for marginalized groups in the workplace.

Finally, you probably saw CEO Chelsea Fagan’s PSA that staying home is a privilege. It’s a good reminder to be appreciative of those who are actively working through this quarantine to bring us food, stock our shelves, and keep us alive. Of course, you can be appreciative of this and also anxious about your situation — those two feelings aren’t mutually exclusive. 

We won’t pretend to know what the next few months will hold, but we hope we can offer you some sense of stability, comfort, and optimism during this time. I’d love to hear from you, too — if you have any words of encouragement or want to share some tips for how you’re getting along at the moment, leave a comment below.

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