As we all continue our remote work routines and disrupted family lives, anxiety can circulate in our collective psyches. Groundbreaking family therapist Pauline Boss calls these unresolved feelings ambiguous loss—loss without a definitive outcome.
She offers six ways to ease your COVID-19 anxiety.
1. Accept that we don’t have a clear solution yet. We’re accustomed to solving problems, so our anxiety can spike when we are faced with a situation that has no clear solution. Accept that until our scientific community gains more evidence, this is our situation.
2. Embrace ambiguity. Fear of uncertainty and ambiguity—not knowing precisely what to do to avoid trouble—can make us feel helpless and anxious. Embracing the ambiguity helps reduce these feelings.
3. Shift to “both and” thinking. You can lower anxiety by seeing the situation as both bad and eventually manageable if we continue to do what the scientists and experts recommend.
4. Find the calm middle ground. Let go of absolute thinking—“It’s nothing to worry about!” versus “We’re all going to die!” The calm middle ground says, “Yes, it’s both dangerous and manageable. It’s both a terrible time and a time to come together for the greater good.”
5. Remember, we are not helpless. There are things you can do. Stay home; discover new ways to be a couple or a family or a friend; help those in need in your neighborhood or building. Find something you can control—even if it is only cleaning your desk or your closet.
6. Take in less anxiety-producing media. This is a time for more calming films, music, and books, and gentle games.
Pauline Boss, professor emeritus of family social science in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, has worked for more than 30 years with individuals and families coping with varieties of ambiguous loss—an armed service member missing in action, loved ones lost in a natural disaster, or those who have succumbed to disease or dementia.