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(Un)comfortable with Uncertainty

Janine White

In a Student Room poll of over 1,000 young people, ‘uncertainty over my education’ ranked as the top concern affecting mental health during the Covid-19 crisis. Year 12s and 13s made up nearly half of the votes in the survey, highlighting the challenge of leaving school these days. It’s a major personal transition within a massive global transition, with many wondering, ‘what’s next?’

We’ve likely experienced the difficulty of making future plans during this uncertain time. I’m reminded of one of my go-to books during my yoga teacher training: “Comfortable with Uncertainty” by Pema Chödrön. I had trouble saying the title because the topic made me so uncomfortable. She might now challenge us by asking, is this time more uncertain than before the pandemic? Or has it just highlighted how inherently uncertain life is?

Being with it all

I’ll share some tools from my own journey of becoming more comfortable (or less uncomfortable) with uncertainty. First, let’s acknowledge what’s going on.

For many students and young people, it’s the first time that you’re making big life decisions, very much depending on personal circumstances. Maybe you’re continuing with lessons online, or with exams canceled, you’re waiting for Results Day. If you’ve already started university or an apprenticeship, you likely know what a ‘new normal’ feels like, as your life is thoroughly different from when you were at school. If you’re taking a gap year, you’ve taken more time in this liminal space of transition.

This time is likely ambiguous and maybe disorienting, with so much out of our control. How are you feeling? Are you holding your breath, waiting for lockdown to end? Are you hoping that things will become clear, so you can move forward?

We don’t know what’s going to happen. And many of us have become aware of how little we know about how to deal with what’s going. It’s normal for uncertainty to feel uncomfortable. As Brené Brown calls it, it’s an FFT (effing first time). Have you ever left school before? Have you ever experienced a global pandemic? It’s all new, so we’re not expected to know what we’re doing. You’re not alone in feeling confused, overwhelmed, and anxious. These feelings make sense.

But does uncertainty need to be a bad thing? For those experiencing mental health issues like anxiety and/or depression, the headspace might not be available to see uncertainty in a positive light. In that case, let’s focus on coping and making sure the right support is available.

But if it doesn’t feel too overwhelming, might it be possible, as you ride the wave of the transition within a transition, to embrace this uncomfortable time, and see what you can learn from it?

Deciding what to do next

In “On Letting Go of Certainty in a Story That Never Ends”, Rebecca Solnit describes a “variety of hope that is inextricable from uncertainty—a sense that we don’t know what will happen but we might have room to participate in determining what will happen.”

You may be more equipped to deal with this transitional period than you realise. How much time have you already spent exploring your future options? You may have had your heart set on one pathway that is no longer feasible. If so, take time to feel your sadness about what you’ve lost.

And then, take a step back. Consider, how do you decide what to do next?

You might have already been asking questions, listening to yourself and others, paying attention, and thinking creatively. How do you foster these inner resources? Many of us now have some more time to take walks, cycle, run, practise yoga, meditate, create art, play instruments, sing, and dance. Whatever it is that brings you joy may also help you to breathe deeply, feel the ground beneath your feet and find some space in your mind.

You might have also been drawing on support from teachers, parents, and friends. They may not have the answers either, but the people who know us best can help us make sense of what’s going on. If those external supports are not available, reach out. You participate in determining what will happen by asking for the help you need to move forward with your life.

We can all tap into our inner and outer resources, guiding us as we decide what to do next. There are lessons in the transition for all of us. Our circumstances certainly differ, but everyone faces an uncertain future. What’s been supporting you during this time? What are your lessons of the lockdown? We’ve all been given a bit more time to pause, to listen and to find out what they are.

If you’re experiencing mental health difficulties during this time, we refer you to Student Minds, a charity we’ll be training with at LIS to support students. They’ve compiled a range of resources here

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