Thriving through uncertainty: how do you cope?

2020 & 2021 – the years that changed our lives more than we could have anticipated.
Self-isolation, cancelled holidays, home schooling, job uncertainty, postponed weddings and birthdays.

Is this the first time you’ve had to deal with a crisis or have you been here before? You might have lived through the last recession, for example – you may be old enough to know what it’s like to really struggle in times of hardship. But here’s the thing – it’s during times like this that the most powerful people thrive. While others are merely surviving and ‘making do’, those who thrive will be taking every opportunity possible to learn, grow and develop.

It’s not always easy thriving through a crisis, but it is absolutely achievable when you know how. The good news is that anyone can learn these skills, and now is a great time to learn if you haven’t already!

Facing the uncertainties of life can cause a great deal of stress, worry and anxiety. Being able to deal effectively with uncertainty is an essential psychological skill we would all benefit from mastering.

We cannot predict with any kind of certainty what the future holds. The situation we are currently in is unknowable and largely beyond our control. However, we don’t need to control the event – we just need to control our response to the event. In other words, we need to feel able to cope.

Coping skills help us deal effectively with challenging, difficult events, situations and experiences – whether it’s a relationship break-down, serious illness, financial hardship or the threat of redundancy, effective coping skills can help. But here’s the thing: not all coping skills are of equal validity.

Heathy vs unhealthy coping

Photo of a woman holding a protective face mask.

Some of the strategies people use, may bring a momentary sense of relief but are unlikely to help in the long term. Behaviours such as excessive drinking, drug use, overeating, over-spending, gambling, binge watching TV are not only unhelpful but are likely to make matters worse. Not only will the original issue still be in place but there may also be an unhealthy, self-defeating habit that needs addressing as well!

It’s important to understand therefore the difference between healthy as opposed to unhealthy coping – the differences, for example between avoidance strategies that are nothing more than a temporary distraction; and strategies that empower us to believe that not only can we cope with the challenges and difficulties of life, but that we can grow beyond them.

Psychologists refer to two types of coping skills: problem-based and emotion-based coping. Problem-solving coping, as the term implies involves directly and proactively solving the problems we face – this type of coping is about taking bold, positive, constructive action to solve the problems faced. Goal-setting, action planning, and seeking out a trusted advisor for help, guidance and support are examples of problem-solving coping strategies in action.

Problem-solving coping skills are undoubtedly useful, necessary and effective. Taking the action needed to solve a problem can, however, be difficult if you’re feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. This is where emotion-based coping skills comes in. Emotion-based coping strategies, it is worth noting, involve thoughts and well as feelings. The cognitive element within emotional-based coping involves positively re-evaluating, re-interpreting and getting perspective on the problem faced.  Accepting the reality of the situation, being grateful and appreciative, and learning from the experience can all help build positive emotions and resilience.

Research shows that both problem-focused and emotional-focused coping skills are valid. In one study highly distressed widows and widowers were offered seven sessions of counselling focused on learning how to cope effectively with their loss (Schut,, 1997). In another study women experiencing long-term infertility attended a 6-session training programme in which they learned how to use both problem and emotion-focused coping skills (McQueeny,, 1997). All participants in both these studies reported experiencing less distress having learned how to cope better with the challenging situations they found themselves in.

So the next time you feel a little overwhelmed or worried, there is actually lots you can do to help yourself out if you focus on what you CAN control, rather than what you cannot.  Arrange an online chat with some friends, go for a walk, clear out your wardrobe, download a new box set. Face the problem head on with a plan of action to sort out what bothers you.  What actions can you take to improve your situation? Who can help you? And what is your first step going to be? What sort of attitude do you need to create?

Feeling powerful and in control of your thoughts and feelings, having the skills to cope, feeling good about yourself, knowing you always have a choice about how you perceive situations, are all things that we teach here at The Thrive Programme. Never has there been a better time to learn these skills, for yourself and the people around you. Do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to know more…in this period of uncertainty, we are here to help as many people as we can.

Written by Thrive Programme Coach® James Woodworth

Schut, H.A, Strobe, M.S, van den Bout, J. & de Keijser, J. (1997), ‘Interventions for the bereaved: Gender differences in the efficacy of two counselling programme,’ British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 36, 63 – 72.
McQueeny, D.A., Stanton, A.L., & Sigmon, S. (1997), ‘Efficacy of emotion-focused and problem-focused group therapies for women with fertility problems,’ Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 20, 313 – 331.

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