Changing Lives Together

Tips for Managing Anxiety in Uncertain Times


As parts of society cautiously and conditionally open up, we will encounter some uncertain situations we avoided during lockdown. How we navigate these uncertainties is going to determine whether we gain confidence or suffer from intense anxiety.

Some of us will be returning to an office, restaurant, or retail environment and will be asked to learn and apply new safety protocols. Some of us will be attending religious services, classes, or gyms, but doing so in a way that feels distant or alien to what we remember. Fear of our own incompetence at handling these new situations can make them even more daunting.

What if I contract or spread the virus because I missed a detail? What if I am putting my children at risk by allowing them to reengage with even a small part of the outside world? What if, in spite of following all the rules, I miss a detail that I shouldn’t have missed?

While some of us may be pressured (financially or socially) to practice something other than total quarantine, others may simply feel it is necessary to reconcile these risks with their mental health. This may include seeing that loved one they’d been keeping clear of or making that trek to the store to buy the product they’ve been getting delivered. 

Within the guidelines of what is legal in your state, it is still you, the individual, that has to make the decision as to what uncertainty you are willing to tolerate. Once you’ve made that decision, you can reduce the likelihood of being overburdened by anxiety with these simple ideas in mind:

  • No precautions can give you total certainty of anything, so feeling uncertain does not mean you are doing the wrong thing. Follow the recommended guidelines as best you can, but remember it may still feel imperfect.
  • Being confused and at least a little anxious is appropriate to the conditions we’re in. Judging your feelings of confusion and anxiety only makes them seem more threatening. Self-compassion is an essential part of managing these difficult emotions.
  • Taking good care of yourself is extra important when you add other challenges to an already stressful time. Be protective of the time you devote to self-care, whether it’s meditation, exercise, or simple pleasurable activities.

Remember: we are living through a period of time characterized by a lack of answers. As things continue to open up and rules change, it’s normal to feel unclear about whether something being allowed is the same thing as something being safe or wise. These decisions are for us to make at a personal level and within the culture of our own family. You’re most likely doing a better job at navigating all this than you think. But when we get overwhelmed, lost in our attempts to be certain, and consumed by our anxiety, any of us could use a helping hand and a kind ear. Whether this is through family, peer support, or professional treatment, asking for help means you’re paying attention and you have hope for a better way of experiencing this world.

Meet the Expert

  • Jon Hershfield, MFT

    Director, The Center for OCD and Anxiety
    Anxiety Disorders, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)