Covid-19: Uncertainty and Vigorous Mind: A Research Review
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." H.P. Lovecraft
The unknown novel corona virus is the biggest enemy which has engulfed the world with its invisible power. The uncertain virus has spread its wings all over the world and to this virus; no one is 'immune'. People can fight with the known enemy but the unknown enemy and uncertain situation is more dangerous. The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced our lives from every perspective as we try to accept what is happening around us. Life is never the same each day. We plan things in life and try to accomplish them with every passing day, the certainty of things helps us to move ahead and put in efforts in whatever we do. However, recent times have shown us how the best-planned things can take a back seat when uncertainty arises. The thought of how and when this will be over has been in our minds most of the time. The human brain has been defined as an "anticipation machine, and 'making future possible thoughts' is the most important thing it does". And it becomes dubious in times of uncertainty as we can choose to either ride the wave of change or let it dwell upon us. These thoughts can either help us to deal with the ongoing situation or make us more vulnerable to anxiety and stress. A higher level of intolerance of uncertainty is a "cognitive vulnerability," according to Michel Dugas, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec. He along with his fellow researchers related high IU to several anxiety disorders as well as to eating disorders and depression. He states that IU appears to be a causal risk factor, meaning it's not just linked to GAD, but has also been seen as a factor leading to more worry. Uncertainty diminishes how efficiently and effectively we can prepare for the future, and further contributes to anxiety. Covid-19 also poses anxiety and stress for people.
Due to the uncertain situation, people are getting panicky. As a rule, humans prefer certainty to uncertainty. Studies (Berker, Rutledge, Mathys, Marshall, Cross, Raymond J. Dolan, Bestmann, 2016) have revealed that people would rather get an electric shock now than maybe be shocked later, and show greater nervous-system activation when waiting for an unpredictable shock (or another unpleasant stimulus) than an expected one.
The COVID-19 has given us the time that human beings wished for. But when we get to sit home and are away from the daily hustles of life our minds have become more vulnerable to maladaptive and catastrophic thinking. According to a theory developed by Grupe and Jack Nitschke, of what brain mechanisms might be at play in this psychological reaction, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience in 2013, in an ambiguous or unpredictable situation, the brain is going to look for clues in the environment; things it identifies from past experience are associated with threat or safety. If this is ineffective, and the brain can't distinguish between what is dangerous and what isn't, then anything could seem like a threat. These disturbances are scary, but fear, anxiety, and worry are not preparation. They add psychological pain to injury thus adding another layer of stress that can compromise the immune system and takes over the mind leading to more concerns making us even more vulnerable to the virus. However, where people differ is in the degree to which uncertainty bothers them.
It is said that 'we are what our mind thinks'. If it's challenging for us to tolerate uncertainty, chances are that one expects a negative outcome out of the situation. Research scientists have long said 'every thought that enters the mind ultimately finds a place in the body' where it tolerates the burden. But changing your perspective and reminding yourself that many opportunities await you in the uncertainty, that it contains many positive outcomes, is a game-changer. Your perspective is the most powerful asset which can help control a situation. Thus, it is important how we engage ourselves to avoid the difficulty of such circumstances. The mindset during this crisis is everything. An optimistic mind brings balance to your brain's ability to anticipate positive and negative outcomes more evenly. Yale neuroscientists found that uncertainty might be healthy for your brain because you learn more in unsure situations. In a predictable setting, your brain doesn't need to do as much. But when situations change, it works harder.
According to Yale Professor Daeyeol Lee (2018), "When you enter a more novel and volatile environment, it might enhance the tendency for the brain to absorb more information." These findings support the significance of moving outside your comfort zone to cultivate a growth mindset, develop resilience, bloom your creativity, further it helps to react to life stress when unexpected things happen. Accepting whatever life delivers to your doorstep, no matter how terrifying or challenging it can be, reduces fear and anxiety.
Uncertainty is so bewildering that some people are willing to accept a worse outcome in exchange for uncertainty's removal. "In people with generalized anxiety disorder, research shows that they're more likely to make choices that they know in the long run will benefit them less, just because it resolves the uncertainty," says Michelle Newman (2019), director of the Laboratory for Anxiety and Depression Research at the Pennsylvania State University.
Trying to search for new and helpful information can also not go as planned. A 2009 study in BMC Public Health found that people can only process and make sense of a limited amount of information and that having too much new information can lead to confusion and increased uncertainty. "Information excess may overwhelm people's information processing capabilities," write the authors of a related 2008 study that found cancer patients who searched for information online tended to come away "frustrated and confused."
Regarding Covid-19, Newman points out that people who spend a lot of their day consuming everything they can about the virus are more likely to feel confused or frightened than informed, she says. The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have altered many people's normal routines, which makes it more difficult to cope with the stress that people are feeling. In a survey done by Kaur and Kaur (2020; in publication), to study the effect of uncertainty and how individuals try to tackle it revealed that around 60% feel that uncertainty does upset them in some way as many believe that this situation cannot be totally controlled. Also, only 6% of people felt that they will not at all be affected by the outcome of the current situation as they perceive this pandemic situation will have long term consequences for them. The survey reveals that individuals also show signs of irritability on several days since lockdown has started as they felt trouble relaxing and experienced worry. However, 9% of people think that this will have a positive impact on them in the future.
So it is important that in such circumstances, focusing on the present can help disperse uncertainty and the anxiety it stimulates. Do things you enjoy. Starting from a book you've been wanting to read or watch a little Netflix or talking with a friend on the phone, any such thing that gets your brain into the present moment. In an article on Covid-19 and self-reflection, the most effective way people can maintain optimal emotional health, both in good times and especially in times of uncertainty is to nurture their family relationships. This is the best time to engage in conversations and cherish family time.
It is also a good opportunity to take care of oneself by eating well, exercising often, and getting some daily sunshine. It not only improves your physical health but boosts your mental health also.
Another way of getting your mind in consumption is by diving into a new skill or hobby. "Engaging the intellect reinforces parts of the brain that humans need to stay mentally sharp and focused. Also, intellectual plans protect against boredom and energy spent on learning something new is energy not spent on negative thinking, feeling, and behavior," says a study. Also, exploring new creative channels or improving upon an existing skillset can be a bonus to your mental health.
This may also be the perfect time to finally practice mindfulness meditation a try or to revisit the practice. "Being in the moment and embracing the moment, which is an element of mindfulness, can distract us from worry and what may or may not happen," says Newman (2016). Mindfulness is a component of many cultural traditions and many of these such as Buddhism highlight "letting go" of things one has no control over. Similarly, various other activities like yoga, dance, cooking, etc. that capture your interest can help you out in letting your mind focus on productivity. Occupying your mind with work, chores, entertainments, or other activities distinct to the source of your uncertainty may be the finest way to shrink down the related concerns to a manageable size.
The benefits of having a positive and strong mindset through times of uncertainty are not just about feeling better, it has a powerful impact on the consequences as well. If we can remain positive and keep our mental grip through crises, we'll be able to come up with solutions rather than getting trapped in the situation.
When the mind is Weak, the situation is Problem. When the mind is balanced, the situation is Challenge. But, when the mind is Strong, the situation becomes Opportunity…