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Four Attitudes to Help Us Cope in Times of Uncertainty

Posted on: October 9, 2020

Written by Gary Wood, author of The Psychology of Wellbeing

The COVID-19 pandemic has called in to question our definition of normality and taken for granted assumptions about the world. Our social lives have changed. Rather than making things up as we go along, we need to plan and re-evaluate and second-guess the government’s mixed messages and U-turns. Forget parties and pub-crawls and developing social skills. During a lockdown and physical distancing, it’s hard to prepare for even the most mundane of interactions. We no longer even know how we’re supposed to greet people! Gone is the humble hug or handshake and in comes the socially awkward elbow touch, bow, or bunny hop. How do we bridge the social and emotional gaps caused by physical distancing? And in navigating life with new fears, rules, and restrictions, we have carved out a temporary ‘new normal’. And some have asked whether things will ever be the same and if the new normal is here to stay? All this uncertainly comes at a cost, and that’s cognitive overload. So how do we cope? And what can life in the time of a pandemic teach us about coping with stress, generally? Because if you can get through this, you can get through anything!

It's traditional fare in pop-psychology books to promote attitude-change to transform our lives. But sometimes it’s true. Psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi propose a combination of attitudes that creates a buffering effect against stress. They call it psychological hardiness. Initially, the researchers looked at business executives to find out why some get ill and others stay healthy. And over time, they have shown positive results in a range of groups from the military and firefighters to university staff and students. Three core attitudes shape our coping style, known as the Three Cs, they are:

  • Commitment – the tendency to get involved with people, things, and situations rather than be detached, isolated, or alienated
  • Control – finding ways, however small, to influence outcomes going on around, rather than sinking into passivity and powerlessness.
  • Challenge – reframing problems as chances to learn rather than avoiding uncertainties and potential threats.

But what of the fourth attitude? Well, it’s more of a ‘meta-attitude’ that I use with coaching clients. It’s another C: creativity. Simply, suspend your disbelief, and use your imagination. And reflect on different options outside your ‘normal’ mindset. Together, these attitudes offer a blueprint to manage uncertainty whenever it comes.
In times of stress, we get trapped in the tumble-dry-cycle of thoughts and feelings. But the quickest way to alter our perceptions is to get fresh input by doing something. So, take a deep breath. Reach out in a spirit of curiosity. Take stock of what you can control. Get creative and break down bigger problems into smaller challenges. Finally, keep a record of your successes as you go. It will become a valuable resource that grows as you do.


About the author:

Dr Gary Wood is a social psychologist, solution-focused coach, and broadcaster. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has taught psychology and learning skills in several UK universities. He is the author of The Psychology of Wellbeing, and Letters to a New Student, both by Routledge.