Managing Anxiety in Uncertainty
Managing Anxiety in Uncertainty
Anxiety is the excessive concern about a potential triggering event or perceived threat to one’s safety.
2020 has certainly brought more than its share of challenges and we still have several months to go. We have seen a global pandemic, quarantines, economic hardships, societal unrest for issues related to racism and inequality, a political climate than is anything but calm and respectful, and even murder hornets. This is in addition to “normal” stressors like divorce, illness, death, loss of jobs, broken relationships, substance abuse, and financial hardships that are common to most people. But we typically don’t experience multiple stressors all at the same time. There is so much uncertainty about day-to-day experiences as well as larger systemic issues that will have a significant impact on how we navigate our lives. Because this state of uncertainty has been going on for so long, we are maxing out our healthy coping strategies.
This uncertainty is anxiety. Anxiety is the excessive concern about a potential triggering event or perceived threat to one’s safety. That safety can be physical, emotional, or social.
Educators are experiencing anxiety at extremely high levels. How do we make decisions that are best for all students when we have no past experience to refer to? How do we balance student and staff safety with student academic growth? Do schools have the resources to provide high quality learning opportunities for all students whether they are learning in person or virtually? How do we manage various technologies that are now a requirement for our instruction?
And we wonder how to support students who have not been engaged in learning for nearly six months. Yes, educators are anxious too!
*When you feel anxious try to identify the FEAR that is causing the anxiety.
Take heart because there are proven strategies to help us acknowledge our anxiety and redirect that energy into constructive action to help reduce our worry and fears. We must acknowledge what we are feeling. Give it a name. Call it what it is. Anxiety is rooted in fear. What are we afraid of? Getting sick, failing classes, losing people we love, successfully balancing teaching in two worlds. Once we acknowledge that fear then we can take action to reduce that fear.
*When you are unsure about the future, pay attention to what you CAN control.
When we don’t know what the future holds it is hard to prepare for it. But when we remember what we do have control over in our lives, the power of that anxiety is reduced. We do not know the outcome of the upcoming election, but we can control how we interact with others and how we engage in our communities. We don’t know when we will have an effective vaccine for COVID-19, but we can control the healthy habits we practice. We don’t know how the rest of the school year will look, but we can control how we interact with our students. We don’t know the long-term impact of the pandemic on the academic growth of our students, but we can invest in their mental wellness and help them identify what they can still control in their lives.
*Fight, Flight, or Freeze is your body’s way of protecting you. Give yourself time to RECOVER physically before processing the experience.
Anxiety is also a physiological process. When our brain recognizes a threat, the amygdala takes over. It will put all of its effort into avoiding the threat and finding a safe place again. This is an autonomic system which means that when a person is experiencing high anxiety, their cognitive thoughts take a back seat to escaping the perceived threat. We can support someone with anxiety by helping them find their safe place again. Depending on their perceived threat, safety may look different. Taking time to identify what fear or worry is at the root of their anxiety is critical. Using phrases such as “Tell me what you are thinking.” or “What are you afraid might happen?” can go a long way in helping our students, children, teachers, and even our loved ones move from a place of fear to one of safety.
Feeling anxiety right now is more than understandable. When you take time to identify the fear or worry driving the anxiety, you will be better equipped to empower those around you to recognize their ability to control their lives amidst the chaos and uncertainty.