Managing uncertain times: focus on today

COVID-19 has forced us to push the “pause” button on a lot of things. Most Arizonans started sheltering in place on (or even before) March 31, when Governor Ducey announced the state’s “Stay home, Stay healthy, Stay connected” policy. Even as Arizona prepares to reopen, there are still a lot of questions about life moving forward.

Are you unsure about when you can start visiting friends and family again and reschedule plans you had to cancel? Or maybe you’re anxious to return to work, school, or volunteer activities.

If so, you’re not alone. It can be hard to start planning for the future when we don’t know how long the pandemic—and the restrictions that come with it—will last. This uncertainty can lead to frustration and worry. The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent your concerns from turning into anxiety or panic.

Start with these simple steps:

  1. Look at what you can control

    Our brains are set up to plan for things that will occur later. This helps us feel in control. Given the profound way the COVID-19 pandemic has changed most of our plans, it can be difficult to adapt. Our new normal means living from one day to the next and staying “in the moment.” Be careful not to get caught up in “what if” scenarios, since they’re not usually based on real facts. Instead of worrying about what could happen during the pandemic or what we don’t know about the outcome, it’s important to focus on what’s within your control.

  2. Start with the here and now

    If you are starting to become anxious about the future, slow down and focus on the present. Remind yourself to start with today. Sketch out a loose schedule for your day, or even just what you want to do for the next few hours. Making a few decisions about your immediate needs is one step toward feeling in control. If making a plan for the entire day feels overwhelming—and these days, there’s no shame in admitting that—focus on something essential to your basic needs that can be easily accomplished. If you’re thirsty, simply pour yourself a glass of water. The trick is to give yourself a goal you can achieve right away.

  3. Carefully look to the future

    If you feel confident about your daily plan, you may be able to broaden your outlook to see if you have enough information to make some future decisions. Look toward something a day or two from now, such as scheduling a call with a friend, making tacos for dinner, or going for a long walk over the weekend.

    Don’t expect to look too far into the future, since there’s no way to know when certain restrictions will be lifted. Just remember that things will calm down. When they do, you can start to plan farther down the road.

  4. Make time for a check-in

    Even with the best intentions and a careful method, you might need to check in with yourself, asking:
    • Is having to focus only on plans for today or tomorrow making me panic?
    • Do I have enough information to make any planning decisions right now?
    • Is worrying helping me make decisions, or is it just making me more anxious?
    If you are feeling anxious, take a minute to breathe. Remember that what we know right now might not be true tomorrow. You may be able to plan further ahead at another time. For now, go back to the short term—whether that’s thinking about the next day, hour, or even minute.