For a moment, she forgot that residents couldn’t leave the premises at her mother’s assisted living place. Still too dangerous, they said.
With all the people out in the streets protesting nationwide, it was easy to forget that the pandemic was still an issue. Three months of staying home alone: a blur of books, Netflix and scary news programs. And too much time thinking of all the things she’d like to get done but lacked the motivation.
What Gayle missed most were her friends, some of them widows like her. Zoom calls kept them in contact, but it wasn’t the same. She wanted to talk to them about what might be coming next.”
If the first six months of 2020 brought anything, it was “change.” In January, no one would have believed what June would look like.
We’ve seen jobs lost, work settings altered, and responsibilities increased or decreased. Our financial lives have been put at risk as markets – and retirement accounts – have been on a rollercoaster ride.
We’ve feared illness and death from an invisible source. We’ve lost friends and loved ones. Or at least we’ve been separated physically from them. Our everyday lives have changed dramatically, and our family dynamics have shifted.
Add to that the protests on the streets of our cities and towns. And an election right around the corner.
The result is total uncertainty.
How our brains deal with uncertainty
In his book, Your Brain at Work, Dr. David Rock tells us, “The brain craves certainty. A sense of uncertainty about the future and feeling out of control both generate strong limbic system responses.” The limbic system is what gave our ancestors their “fight or flight” responses to the threat of wild animals, attacks from rival tribes and the onslaught of disease.
And for us, the triggers can come from intimate relationships, volatile economies, uncertain job security and health issues.
Curiously enough, the past six months have brought us worries in every one of those areas.
How to minimize the uncertainty
Our advantage is that we can take some steps to shore up fundamentals in each area, so the consequences seem less worrisome.
Intimate relationships: Our relationships have been affected in two ways: for months now, we’ve been unable to see friends and loved ones face-to-face – those who are an integral part of our social being. We thought of ourselves as so “connected” through our different technologies, but we now realize that there’s nothing like hearing the unfiltered laugh of a child or a friend. As conditions change, and we’re able to interact directly again, make sure you don’t forget how important those people are to your wellbeing – and tell them so.
We’ve also spent more time than ever before sharing space with spouses and children, tethered to a house that used to be a place where our lives simply crisscrossed. The forced intimacy will have brought out the best and the worst in us all.
We’ve learned lessons from the proximity – some good, some bad. Put them to use in a way that honors everyone but try not to sweep them back under the rug. Look for clarity in your relationships going forward; it lessens the uncertainly. (Besides, life is to be lived in joy.)
Volatile economies: Regardless of how much or how little you have saved for retirement, you’ve been affected by the madly swinging markets. From the “highest-ever” peaks in February, they fell precipitously in March – and have now rebounded almost entirely. If we didn’t know it before, we’ve learned how vulnerable our IRAs, 401(k)s and investments are to the markets, over which we have no control.
Many people took losses during the markets’ ride down. And those who held on are now facing the dilemma of deciding whether their assets are safe or not. (Frankly, no one knows.) If there’s a way of increasing long-term certainty, it’s by working with a qualified financial advisor (if you aren’t doing so already) who can shield the ideal amount of assets from volatile markets. We can’t control the markets, but we can control how exposed we are to them. And there’s a sweet spot that reflects your specific situation.
Uncertain job security: So much damage has already been done: one in four Americans are out of work today. If that’s you, the challenge is to stretch your resources as smartly as you can, as you seek out a replacement in the slowly re-opening economy.
But whether you lost or kept your job, it may be an opportunity to look at where the economy is headed, how technologies will change industries and where the opportunities lie.
This period has shown us how ruthless and disruptive economic shocks can be. And we see the importance of emergency funds that can carry us through times of economic uncertainty.
Health issues: Corona has made it clear that our medical community is not infallible, that it doesn’t have all the answers and that we’re all more vulnerable than we realized. Whether our fear is for ourselves, our parents or grandparents, this unknown enemy left us all unarmed, fighting only with hand sanitizer, masks and 6-foot distances.
But, a more robust immune system is better than a weak one, and we can prepare ourselves better if the virus should come back around at any time in the future. Healthy bodies can lessen medical uncertainty in general. And it makes sense to continue any efforts that corona inspired us to make thus far.
Being prepared administratively also reduces uncertainty. As people dialed 9-1-1 and were rushed to hospitals with no advance notice – and with no access to family afterward to take belated steps – how many wished they had living wills in place? Or directives on resuscitation or intubation (that new word)? Or a designated health care agent?
We have an opportunity to create or update advance directives for medical decisions, powers of attorney and estate planning documents. While we hope they won’t be needed soon, we’ve just been shown that you never know.
What actions should you take?
A saying of unknown origins is going around the internet. It says, “If you want to know the past, look at your present condition. If you want to know your future, look at your present actions.”
With all the uncertainty before us, we may not be able to project our future. But there are actions we can take to influence it.
Revisit the past few months and jot down any realizations, lessons, acknowledgments or inspirations you may have had. And then, decide if they can be acted upon while you’re still close to home, or if they need for you to be out and about.
In either case, for the sake of greater certainty in the future, do them.