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I’ve been reading a lot recently about the relationship between uncertainty and mental health. Specifically, it’s well-documented that uncertainty drives significant anxiety. This is logical on many levels but what I didn’t realize is just how deep-seated it is. In a time when there’s an incredible amount of uncertainty, I think this is something that everyone needs to take a step back and understand. Even people who haven’t lost jobs, don’t have loved ones impacted by COVID, and whose kids are doing well in online school are affected.
Uncertainty provokes a kind of “fight or flight” response in the human brain. As we try to escape the idea of uncertainty, we analyze a situation in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. In other words, we worry in order to eliminate uncertainty and reassure ourselves. Frequent worry can lead to anxiety or depression and some individuals are more susceptible to it than others. It turns out that if you’re particularly vulnerable to uncertainty, you’ll have a heightened reaction to it in the same way someone who is allergic to a bee sting will react to that. For some people, it’s just a nuisance and for others, it’s more threatening. People who don’t tolerate uncertainty well fall prey to needing constant reassurance, procrastination, double-checking everything, and needing to do everything themselves all of which exacerbates the initial problem and leads to more worry and anxiety.
The future is always uncertain and we cannot prepare for every possible outcome so tolerating some level of uncertainty in our lives is essential. Establishing healthy routines (eating, sleeping, activity), staying present, and avoiding isolation are all good tactics for maintaining your mental health. Another is to focus on what can be done versus all of the unknowns. Obviously in this time of incredible uncertainty (work, life, kids, summer plans, camp, school in the fall, family, loved ones that are vulnerable, did I already have Covid, etc.) this becomes even more important.
I’ve been trying to think about how to apply these ideas to work and to life and looking for places where I can help reduce uncertainty for myself and for others. There are not a lot of things right now that we have real control over but this has led to decisions such as the one I posted recently about Foundry keeping its office closed until September. It’s a small thing but it allows everyone at Foundry to make plans and at least have more certainty in this one thing.
I’d encourage you to consider this for your own life. Especially for those readers (CEOs, managers, etc.) who are in a position to make seemly small moves that could remove uncertainty in the lives of those around them that could actually be very meaningful.