Advice to help young people handle uncertainty

Last reviewed on 5 October 2020

When will things go back to normal? It’s the question everyone is asking and it might well be making you feel stressed or anxious. Although stress is a very normal reaction to threats (it prepares you for ‘fight or flight’), it’s important that you focus on what’s in your control.

As Dr Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, says, “You can’t control what happens in the future. You can’t control coronavirus itself or the world economy or how your government manages this whole sordid mess. And you can’t magically control your feelings, eliminating all that perfectly natural fear and anxiety. But you can control what you do – here and now. And that matters.”

Although this is a temporary situation, it might feel like coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown your future plans up in the air. A recent report by Partnership for Young London and Good Thinking revealed that young people are concerned about the uncertainty of exams, how the economy will recover and whether there might be a second wave of the virus.

London’s digital mental wellbeing service Good Thinking has put together these tips to help you handle these uncertain times. You might also find our articles about stress and sleep and our podcasts about mindfulness and sleep interesting. For the latest information about what you can and cannot do, visit the UK Government website.

1. Remember that life is always uncertain

This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that you’ll face uncertainty. Think back to previous experiences and how you dealt with them – like when you were doing your exams or when you fell out with one of your friends. Were your thoughts all over the place? Could you not see how you’d get through it? But you did. And you’ll get through this too.

You might find it useful to actively practice being more open to uncertainty – for example, you could cook something without following a recipe or watch a film on Netflix that you wouldn’t normally choose. While we all crave certainty and security, it’s vital that we know how to cope with difficult situations.

On a positive note, it’s a good idea to acknowledge that there is lots of work going on to get life back on track after the coronavirus pandemic. We are no longer on a national lockdown and scientists all over the world are researching vaccines and treatments.

2. Focus on what’s in your control

Although you're back at school, your usual routines and rituals might still be a bit different to before lockdown. It might be a good idea to put a schedule up on your wall and follow it as much as you can. Include time for schoolwork, exercise, socialising and sleep.

We all have much more control over what we do than how we feel. If you’re worried about your and your family’s health, following the official guidance about social distancing and hand washing might help you to feel more in control. If you have specific concerns, such as money worries, talk to your family about it and get expert advice (see the ‘Useful websites’ section below).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with information and opinions about coronavirus, try to limit your news and social media intake. And avoid turning to unhealthy habits, such as smoking and drinking. Try to find healthy and enjoyable ways to use your time instead – you can find lots of ideas in Good Thinking’s advice for children and young people.

3. Be in the present moment

Although worrying might make you feel like you have some control, it can be exhausting and it’s unlikely to change the outcome of this situation. To help you avoid getting into a spiral of ‘What if...?’ questions and worst-case scenarios, try some mindfulness exercises. When you’re firmly in the moment, it’s harder to worry about the future.

You could download a mindfulness app, such as Be Mindful, and use it at home or while you’re out for your daily exercise. In her recent podcast for Good Thinking, mindfulness expert Janet Wingrove recommended a three-minute breathing space as “...a way of taking a pause and reorienting yourself.” Check out the podcast here and find out more about Be Mindful here.

4. See this as an opportunity for growth

We know it feels like your life is on hold at the moment but this is actually a brilliant opportunity for self-development. You might not even realise it but you’re probably becoming more independent and resilient. By spending time with your family, you might be getting to know them better and becoming closer.

A recent survey by The DofE Award found that a quarter (25%) of young people have felt inspired during lockdown. If you’re a budding entrepreneur, why not get that business plan written? If you’re hoping to go to university in the future, how about making a start on your personal statement? And if you’ve got some time on your hands, could you volunteer for a local community group?

This is also a great time to learn something new but try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Just because your friend has decorated their bedroom, read 10 novels and learnt to play the ukulele in the last few weeks doesn’t mean you have to!

Find out how you can use this time as an opportunity to develop a new healthy habit.

Useful websites

Anxiety UK

BBC Newsround

Citizens Advice

iwill

Reachout

Shout

The Mix

YoungMinds

Read our articles about general advice for children and young people, how to deal with the stress of exam results and how to deal with job and financial uncertainty. If you're a student, you might find our podcast with The Student Room and our Q&A about 'end of lockdown' anxiety useful.