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Coping in Uncertain Times: 5 Tips for Caregivers and Youth

Coping in Uncertain Times: 5 Tips for Caregivers and Youth ​Why are some people more affected by uncertainty than others? How can we cope in times of uncertainty and how can we support our children and teens to do the same? Click Full Story to learn about "uncertainty tolerance" and ways to get better at coping with uncertainty, from the PDSB Mental Health Resource Team.

​​Why are some people more affected by uncertainty than others? How can we cope in times of uncertainty and how can we support our children and teens to do the same? "Uncertainty tolerance" is our ability to accept and cope with uncertain/ambiguous situations. People with higher tolerance for uncertainty are better able to accept and adapt to outcomes they can't predict or control, whereas, people with lower tolerance for uncertainty are more likely to experience anxiety and stress associated with the unknown.


How do I know if I (or my child) am experiencing difficulty tolerating uncertainty?

Common behaviours that people show when they have difficulty tolerating uncertainty may include:
  • Seeking repeated reassurance from others that things will "be okay" or "turn out fine"
  • Asking repeated questions about how situations will play out or what is to come in the future
  • Checking and double-checking (e.g., repeatedly checking social media/news outlets for updates, rereading emails or assignments to ensure they are perfect)
  • Avoiding situations or delaying tasks that provoke anxiety or where the outcome is uncertain
  • Engaging in a stream of distracting activities to avoid having to think about uncertainty
​So how can I (or my child) get better at coping with uncertainty?

The good news is that the skill of tolerating uncertainty is much like a muscle. If we practice coping with uncertain situations, we can improve at doing so. Here are a few tips to get started:
  1. Mindfulness practice. Being mindful can teach us how to experience the discomfort of uncertainty, without trying to change or eliminate it. Individually or with your child, try incorporating mindful breathing​ or a body scan practice into your day.
  2. Coping thoughts. Come up with a few coping thoughts to keep on hand to use in moments of stress and uncertainty. You may say to yourself: "I have felt uncertain before, but I got through it," or "no one can predict the future, so I will focus on doing the best I can in this moment."
  3. Do the opposite. Do the opposite of any behaviors you use to control the discomfort of uncertainty (e.g., if you constantly check newsfeeds for updates, try to limit yourself to one or two checks per day). It may be uncomfortable at first, but you will likely learn that uncertainty is not as bad as you feared.
  4. Focus on what you can control. Make a list of things that worry you and divide them up into "things I can control" and "things I can't control." Make a conscious choice to focus on the list you can control. For example, we can't control if schools remain open, but we can practice proper physical distancing.
  5. Make progress on a skill or hobby. By experiencing progress and creating forward movement in life areas that are within our control, we can establish a better sense of certainty for ourselves. Consider engaging in daily exercise, starting a small home project, or making artwork etc. 
For more tips and resources to navigate mental health and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.peelschools.org/reopening and click Mental Health and Well-Being Supports. To follow along with the work of the PDSB Mental Health Resource Team, find us on Twitter @MHRTPeel​

Adapted from "Intolerance of Uncertainty" by Anxiety Canada (https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/intolerance-of-uncertainty) and "6 Tips for Coping In Uncertain Times" by Dr. Sabrina Stutz (bit.ly/6TipsCHOC)

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