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How To Deal With Uncertainty At Work

A time of uncertainty can be difficult for your mental wellbeing. Here are some helpful tips to manage stress and anxiety in these trying times.
Published 29 Jun 2022
Updated 1 Dec 2022
10 min read
Navigating Uncertainty: How to Adapt to a New Kind of Normal

As widespread inflation and the long-term impact of the pandemic continues to bite, it sometimes feels like there’s been very little respite from the last few years.

All of us have been affected, be it financially, physically or mentally. Many have experienced loss, illness or personal struggles.

Coping with this certainly takes a toll. Accepting uncertainty and remaining resilient can be a challenge, especially when humans are naturally wary of change. The ability to pivot and push through challenges isn’t one that comes easily.

On a practical level, we’ve got some ideas on how you can build that resilience to support yourself and others when personal wellbeing takes a hit.

How can we manage negative emotions when times get tough?

Start with the experts.

We know that as human beings, we struggle with uncertainty. It ignites our primitive instinct – we want to know what’s lurking around the corner. So how can we manage this?

It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. If you or your employees are experiencing feelings of distress and anxiety, please do not suffer in silence.

There are many effective resources and mental health professionals available to help you through this challenging time as a first response.

The following resources are available for free:

Alternatively, find out whether you can seek support through an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP is a confidential service that workplaces can provide to employees, which offers professional counselling services. If you’d like to find out exactly how an EAP can help you and your team through difficult times, you can learn more here.

Reaching out to a trained mental health professional is always the best first step when things get really hard. Beyond this, we’ve also got some additional tips for supporting your wellbeing.

Step 1: Be kind to yourself

In a world that often feels dominated by conflict, it’s never been more important to practise empathy – both for yourself and for others. If things are really tough and it’s affecting your day-to-day life, the reality is that you can only do what you can do.

The key is to recognise how you can make things work when the productivity well is running a little dry.

Manage what you can in the present moment

If you’ve set ambitious goals recently and haven’t gotten around to starting them, it’s okay. Maybe you haven’t worked out 5 times a week like you wanted to, but it’s okay too. So you’re not sipping margaritas on the beach like that person you knew from college, that’s ok as well.

In times like these, we all cope differently. The last few years are not like anything any of us has ever experienced before. What helped us cope with hard times before may not work now.

Take stock of what you can do and try to ignore unnecessary pressure. Open communication channels are so important, particularly at work. Recognise where issues might arise or potential challenges are looming and set effective boundaries.

Be conscious of your social media usage

According to the World Economic Forum, the average internet user spends almost 2 and a half hours a day on social media. It’s hard to get away from being bombarded by all sorts of content, whether it’s worrying international news, tense discourse or those aforementioned margaritas on the beach. Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting with others, but it can also make us feel worse.

Make a note of how social media is making you feel. If it’s getting you down, consider taking a digital break – or setting a ‘curfew’ for time spent on it. Consider how you feel before you log in and act accordingly to mitigate negative consequences.

And if there’s just no way you can give up your social media time, consider what you’re absorbing. One fun idea is to create a social media profile totally devoted to following accounts featuring something you really love – like cute cat videos, baking ideas or comedy sketches. Build a positive digital bubble you can hop into when the normal one gets a bit much.

Positive psychology

Positive psychology doesn’t just mean thinking happy thoughts all the time. Instead, it is about your overall perspective on life and focusing on the good. In the past, the focus of psychology has been on identifying and treating mental health problems like anxiety.

Positive psychology differs by outlining how we can achieve and sustain a healthy mindset. Not only will this impact your world at home, but also your world at work. Practising gratitude is one of the many positive psychological strategies that can help improve mental wellbeing.

Gratitude journaling is a simple exercise that aims to help people identify the good in their lives, regardless of how big or small that good thing may be. If watching The Bachelor or seeing which Real Housewife is malfunctioning for the week brings you joy then so be it!

However, gratitude journaling is just one of the many ways we can practice positive psychology to improve the way we think.

Actively maintaining a positive mindset can also improve work performance and in particular, leadership. Studies have shown that a leader with a positive mindset will be more engaged and have a higher performance level.

They will also be more likely to influence others towards a similar mindset. Learning to notice the positive things in our lives creates subtle shifts in our mindsets. These shifts enable us to open new pathways in our minds and change the way we think and feel for the better.

Such changes will impact not only our world at home but our world in the workplace and other social settings.

Step 2: Find a routine

As we try to deal with uncertainty caused by the last few years, it can sometimes feel like things are a manic rush. If you’re a caregiver or trying to balance personal commitments and challenges as everything else gets tough, things will feel destabilising.

Choose a rhythm that works

As best you can, it can be helpful to have control over one thing – your personal routine. There’s plenty of research that suggests our brains thrive on routine. For the sake of your mental health, set some simple routine staples that you can include.

For example, this could be waking up and going to bed at the same time every day to get your body clock into a rhythm. It could also include eating full meals three times a day or putting aside designated time to meditate or go for a walk.

It takes on average around two months to turn an action into a habit, so keep your routine simple and achievable.

Remember the basics

This is a hard time. It is inevitable that some days will feel tougher than usual. Whether you’re already living with mental health issues or you’re feeling their effects for the first time – take it easy on yourself and practice acceptance. Sleep, some food and a shower might be all you’re up to, and that’s ok.

Show yourself some kindness and self-care. Be sure to flag any mental health concerns with your employer, so they can look after you too. Remember to make sure you’re working in a healthy way as well.

‘What advice would I give to a friend?’ is a great question to ask yourself. When your mental health is taking a toll, think about what you’d do to care for a friend who feels the same way. Then, treat yourself likewise.

Step 3: Consider ways to support your mental wellbeing

Reach out to someone you trust

Particularly for introverted types or those who might feel self-conscious talking about mental health, it can be all too easy in times of struggle to shut yourself off from others. However, this can lead to feelings of isolation that compound existing challenges.

It could be as simple as texting a friend and seeing if they want to come round for a coffee or Facetiming a relative for a chat. You might find that they’re in the same boat or that they can give you a good distraction from things that are troubling you.

Healthy body = healthy mind

Nowadays, this probably seems like a no-brainer. If you want to keep your mind healthy, you need to care for your body. Our psychological state is intrinsically linked to our physiological health. Especially in times of increased stress like the present, practising self-care is essential.

Our mental health is hugely influenced by what we fuel our bodies with. So, be mindful about what you’re eating and drinking. Hydration is important for brain function and therefore for mental health. Make sure you’re drinking enough throughout the day.

On the other hand, it can be easy to turn to alcohol in times of poor mental health, but it doesn’t help at all. Watch your alcohol consumption, so you don’t grow to rely on it as a crutch.

In terms of food, aim for something wholesome and filling. Lots of veggies, mixed grains and protein. Avoid processed or sugary foods. We get it, sometimes a bowl of ice cream is a much-needed antidote to a bad day. Just remember to find a balance.

Meditate

The concept of meditation is pretty simple — it is a state of mind when you think about nothing. Countless studies have highlighted the benefits of meditation in decreasing stress and anxiety as well as improving mental wellbeing

However, meditation can also be useful in improving concentration, which leads to productivity. It might sound counterintuitive, but by sitting quietly and clearing your mind, you in turn allow it to work more effectively and creatively.

Working in a corporate environment requires attention and creativity. However deadlines, increased workload and other life factors can also lead to stress. Cortisol is the stress hormone that’s found in all of our bodies.

When you’re stressed, this hormone releases chemicals known as cytokines which disrupt sleep, increase levels of anxiety and impact our ability to think clearly.

Studies have shown that practising mindfulness meditation can successfully reduce this chemical response, benefiting both our environment at home and in the workplace. You can practice many different forms of meditation, and most don’t require any equipment.

One of the best parts about meditation is that it only takes a few minutes each day. You could even try setting an alarm to help develop a constant habit. Spotify, YouTube and Instagram are all great places to find free guides to start your meditation journey.

Take breaks

If you’re finding the lines between work and personal life are getting a little blurred and it’s taking its toll, consider how you can find that space again. Taking more breaks is essential for employee productivity, mental wellbeing and overall work performance.

While at times it can be tempting to chain yourself to the desk and power through the day’s work, overworking can lead to stress and burnout. Not only does this affect health and wellbeing, it also defeats your purpose of pushing through in the first place. A few examples of the benefits of taking breaks include:

  • Increase in productivity and motivation. Stepping away from work can help you regain focus and energy. This increase in engagement is linked with an increase in productivity.
  • Decrease in stress. Everyone needs time to recharge. Working for long periods of time without a break can lead to mental fatigue. A break can help reduce stress and improve your mental wellbeing.
  • Boost in creativity. It can be hard to focus on the same thing all day. Taking a break and letting your mind rest can help lead to that eureka moment.
  • Improvement in memory and learning. We are often taught that sleep is one way our brain works to strengthen our memory. However, mental breaks are also proven to help with memory and replenishing attention spans.

Step 4: Find community

The after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the stresses around the cost of living have left many of us feeling anxious and isolated. This is bad news for our mental health because after all, we are social creatures. To protect your mental health, seek community.

At home

Living in the same home doesn’t automatically equal genuine connection. Sometimes, our partners, families and housemates need a little nudge in the right direction. Suggest a board game night or simply have dinner together at the table rather than in front of the TV. Maybe try something like a painting night or a trivia quiz that everyone can participate in. Cost-effective and fun!

At work

If you’re working from home, make the most of technology. Staying in regular contact with colleagues is important. Sure, you could have that conversation via email… but why not video chat? Working from home means organic lunch break conversations won’t happen. So, you’ll need to go out of your way to check in on your colleagues. In uncertain times like the present, this couldn’t be more important. The same goes if you’re back in the office – make sure you’re reaching out and being involved.

As a people leader

If you’re a leader at work, there are specific challenges when mental health gets tough. After all, just like if you’re a caregiver at home, people rely on you to keep things on the right path. Mental health challenges can make this responsibility very difficult.

It may also be that you have to support people in your team with their own mental health challenges. Look into different ways you can engage your team, even if it involves setting up different activities at different times.

This also extends to ensuring that everybody is eating well, staying hydrated and getting sufficient sleep. It’s important to remind your team that these things can make a big difference to your overall mood.

The wrap up

It’s been a difficult few years, and it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed and stressed. With a few strategies and mood-boosting activities, you can be on the road to feeling more in control when you face uncertainty and negative events.

Take care of yourself and remember to reach out to trusted people for support. If you’re an existing Employment Hero customer, we recommend you look into providing EAP services to your team if you don’t already.

Remember to be kind to yourself and do what you want to do. Sometimes it’s just the baby steps we need to take. If you’re interested in learning how to nurture your wellbeing during this time, you can watch one of our WFH Wellness Series webinars.

Want to learn how you can improve wellbeing at work? Download our workplace wellness bundle for more ideas.

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