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How to deal with change and uncertainty during COVID-19

We have all faced disruption and change during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and you may like the uncertainty has had a lasting impact.

It's easy to get caught in a spiral of "what ifs" – worrying about the future and what to expect, particularly if we are already struggling with our mental health.

But there are ways we can manage uncertainty to help us reduce stress and cope better.

Here are 10 things you can do to help deal with change and look after your mental wellbeing in the face of uncertainty, as well as places you can go to get further free advice and support.

1. Take stock of how you feel

Put time aside to examine your current situation and consider how you really feel, perhaps talking it through with someone you trust.

Sometimes, just acknowledging the things that are affecting you can help you to manage feelings of uncertainty.

Try to be kind to yourself, and get support with how you are feeling if you think you might need it. There is plenty of help out there from mental health charities and the NHS.

2. Focus on the short term

The further we look into the future, the easier it is to get overwhelmed by long-term uncertainty. Instead, try to focus on the day-to-day, and think about what's in your power to do right now.

Decide what's important to you, and concentrate on your short-term needs and those of the people close to you. Try breaking down each day or each week into manageable, achievable tasks, and focus on each goal in turn.

This can be hard if you are feeling low. Start with easier activities and work up – as you progress, your mood should improve and it should get a bit easier.

3. Acknowledge what's working

Even when it might feel like everything is up in the air or going wrong, there will be some things, however small, that do not change. It could be a close relationship, our favourite meal or a song that means something to us.

Noticing, acknowledging and being grateful for these constants in our life, as well as any small positive changes we have already made or are working on, can really help us deflect and recover from life's knocks – and helps us see positive possibilities for the future.

Each day, consider what went well and try to list 3 things you're thankful for.

4. Recognise your achievements

It's been a really difficult time, and many of us have been tested in ways we never expected. We have all had to find new ways to cope and adapt.

Take 10 minutes and list some of your accomplishments or successes from the past 12 months – no matter how big or small. Are there any unexpected ones in there?

Perhaps you learned how to cook a new meal, organised the "cupboard of doom", homeschooled the kids, led a virtual meeting, helped a friend or neighbour, finished a book you've been meaning to read, or spoke to friends and family more.

Even just getting by in the face of one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in many years is a big achievement in itself.

Whatever they are, take time to reflect on and be proud of your accomplishments this year, and keep a note of them from now on.

5. Find a new rhythm

Routine and structure can be a powerful way to regain consistency and reduce uncertainty.

Think about all the day-to-day things that are within your control. How can you create a new routine that works for you? It can be as simple as going for a morning walk each day and sticking to the same bedtime.

Make time to de-stress and wind down each day – build in positive activities like exercise, relaxation, hobbies, speaking to friends or spending time with those close to you, and think about a positive sleep routine.

Video: Progressive muscle relaxation

This audio-only video will guide you through an exercise to help you recognise when you're starting to get tense, and how to relax your body and mind.

6. Try to stay in the moment

When going through a period of change and uncertainty, we can sometimes forget about the here and now.

It's important not to dwell on the past, fixate on the future, or get bogged down by things you do not or cannot know. You can only do your best with what you have today.

Relaxation, mindfulness or getting outside and enjoying nature are all good ways to help you focus on the present.

Video: Mindful breathing

Mindfulness and meditation help you to be in the present. Try our mindful breathing video. It can help you feel more calm.

7. Reframe your thoughts

In difficult times, it can be easy to get caught up in negative thoughts, feelings and actions. For most people, feeling uneasy is an understandable response to the uncertainty present in everyday life, but there are ways to manage these feelings.

Maybe you're disappointed about what was "supposed" to happen or are scared of what the future may hold. You might find yourself in a negative spiral where you fixate on issues and convince yourself of the worst.

It can be helpful to step back, examine the evidence for your thoughts and explore other ways of looking at the situation.

This will not resolve the problems you face but can help break a negative spiral and give you a new perspective – things are often not as bad as we thought.

Watch our video to learn a technique to help you deal with unhelpful thoughts and help you work through things.

Video: Reframing unhelpful thoughts

Check out our short video to get some practical tips on how you can challenge your thoughts and start to break unhelpful cycles.

8. Decide what strategies work for you

Uncertainty at work, home or around others' expectations can put a strain on our mental health and wellbeing.

Although it might feel overwhelming, remember this is not the first challenge you have faced in life. You probably already have a lot of the strengths and skills to get through the current situation.

Think about what strategies have worked best for you when you have faced problems before, and work out how you can use these approaches now. It could be in the past or something that has worked recently.

Maybe you've noticed going for a walk at lunch every day helps to clear your head or perhaps scheduling a catch-up with a friend makes you feel that bit brighter.

Whatever it is, commit to making it part of your daily routine – and remember that recognising when you need professional help with your mental health is an important coping strategy for many people.

9. Only do what's comfortable

As the situation evolves, it's important to make sure we are going at our own pace.

We should not let others pressure us into things that make us feel uncomfortable, anxious or unsafe – but we also have to try to not let that be an excuse that stops us from doing positive and beneficial things, like staying in touch with friends.

Discuss any concerns with those close to you and try to build in small positive changes. Honest and open communication is vital but so is giving others the space to move at their own speed.

10. Get practical advice

Talk to people you trust and get support if you need it. There is lots of help out there.

If you're worried about your employment or housing, then find out about your rights. It can be hard, but try to face your fears and get help. Citizens Advice is a good place to start.

For advice on how to look after your mental health in the workplace, or support others Mental Health At Work has a range of resources and information.

If you're worried about bills or debt, the best thing you can do is talk to an expert and make a plan.

Further support and advice

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, our pages on stress, anxiety, sleep, low mood and money worries have lots more tips and advice, as well as support if you're a parent or caregiver for a child or young person.

We also have specific guidance and information on helping others with mental health problems.

If you do not live in England

Additional country-specific COVID-19 guidance is available for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.