How can I deal with the idea that I don’t know if and when COVID-19 is going to end?

Uncertainty and Misinformation

This week we wanted to address one of the biggest questions out there….one that keeps even these nerdy girls up at night.

A: This is a difficult question and while we would love to tell you how and when this story ends, it’s just not that that simple. The defining features of this pandemic make it particularly challenging for the collective us: uncertainty, variability, and individual and collective response.


Let’s begin with the idea of uncertainty, where we define uncertainty as unknown or unknowable information as it applies to observable or future events. Uncertainty may be one of the most defining features of this pandemic. Uncertainty is the enemy of anxiety. And the pandemic has exposed the impact that uncertainty has had on our mental health. We are uncertain about the future, our families, our jobs, the trajectory of the pandemic, the science and clinical course of the virus, and even the extent of the pandemic’s reach. Our bodies respond to this level of uncertainty with fear, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and other somatic and psychiatric symptoms. Uncertainty has even been linked to specific mental health disorders such as: depression, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. That people are experiencing these disorders either as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic is starting to emerge in the data.

This is most likely because we adopt strategies that help us cope, even when they are maladaptive. Some of us consistently surf the internet for news and new information to make sense of the world, some of us seek alcohol or other substances that temporarily relieve our discomfort, and others still bury themselves in distracting activities like organizing, exercising, and yes, even baking. In the best of circumstances, people find a nice new hobby and adopt a puppy. In the worst, they find themselves grasping for meaning in the middle of this and struggling with their mental and physical health. While some coping strategies are not harmful on the surface, this general discomfort caused by anxiety does not allow us to create adaptive coping strategies. But, the amazing thing about human beings is that we can actively change our response, even in the face of uncertainty. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provide a strong framework for this.


The initial period of the pandemic was marked by what we define as adjustment, the balance between meeting our needs in the context of the external environment. We were settling into the idea of working from home, creating new routines, and learning to be OK with physical isolation from other people. Many people were even adjusting well. However, due to changing information and public health guidelines, the speed at which the virus spread, varying responses to the pandemic in other countries, and variation in regional response to the pandemic in the United States, the process of adjustment was challenged. In our best times, we move through a normal process of adjustment to new events, which can last up to six months. After six months, if we have difficulty with behavior change and symptoms such as poor motivation, insomnia, sad mood, or heightened anxiety, we may be having a maladaptive response. It is too early for us to tell if individuals and communities may be experiencing a shared experience of adjustment disorder. However, what we do know is that we have had to adjust to multiple events, possibly disrupting our positive coping mechanisms to the adjustment process. Yet adjustment can be normalized as part of a collective experience. In other words, we are all adjusting to at least some shared circumstances together.


We can differentiate individual response as an individual’s actions to the guidance provided by the collective response, such as policies put in place like universal masking. For the collective response to be effective, individual response matters. Over the past three to four months, we have modelled individual behavior based on guidance from our communities. Part of what makes this challenging is that despite the best collective response, the individual response may vary. This is at the heart of why some individuals feel powerless against the pandemic. We can draw on resiliency and reframing our mindset to see the pandemic as an important event but not allowing it to overshadow every aspect of our daily lives. The first step in this process is keeping up to date on the latest information on the pandemic and following best practices (for example: Keeping interactions outdoors). The second step is adaptation, or acceptance of the new normal as part of our daily lives. We are redefining what it means to be normal and living in the present moment rather than comparing our normal to even three months ago. Part of this is accepting that small changes in individual and collective response can create different outcomes. We cannot predict all possible scenarios, but we can accept that our world (and this virus) operate in a sea of change. We can feel empowered by this knowledge.


Uncertainty, variability, and individual and collective response all contribute to our emotional response to the pandemic. Learning to cope with uncertainty, share the experience of adjustment, and continue to stay informed in order to guide our actions can make a difference in our own lives as well as the lives of others.
We nerdy girls will continue to do our best to support you in this journey. We are with you for the ride and feeling the same feelings you are (exhausted, stressed, _insert emotion). So…..Stay Safe. Stay Sane. And let us add, stay hopeful!

#positivepsychology #resilience #BeckInstitute