One lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is that I’m not great at dealing with uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always hated uncertainty. But after months of these unprecedented times (ugh), I’ve also realized that avoiding uncertainty isn’t just a preference—it’s a necessity to my mental health. And I’m not alone. Humans in general don’t do great with the feeling of helplessness that often comes with uncertainty. Therapists have told me this time and time again this year, whether I’m asking how to deal with anxiety around coronavirus or coping with election stress or quelling the swirling storm of emotions about not being able to plan for the future. But when uncertainty is as unavoidable as it is right now, how do you deal?
The short answer: You focus on what you can control. Focusing on the controllable applies across the board this year. For coronavirus anxiety, therapists urged us to concentrate on what we can do as individuals, like stay up on hand hygiene, wear our masks, and social-distance. Prior to the election, therapists urged us to turn our attention away from catastrophizing and instead put our energy into registering to vote, volunteering, and other actionable steps.
These small shifts in our focus can add up for sure. But they weren’t helping my sense of helplessness as much as I wanted them to. Eventually I realized I needed something a little bigger—something that was disconnected from the chaos outside and was instead just for me. I needed, frankly, something that existed for the sole purpose of giving me something to control.
So I started reorganizing everything in my life. My closet. My junk drawer. The awful ever-expanding tangle of miscellaneous cords under my desk. My Tupperware cabinet. The list goes on. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, there’s always something else to organize. It’s mindless but time-consuming work that has spanned months now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
I’m not suggesting you get super into reorganizing like I did—but I am suggesting that you find your version of that. And if you can’t find anything, you can create something. I took to Twitter to ask my followers how they’re dealing with uncertainty, and amazing answers came in droves. Here are just some of them, in case they give you some ideas of what your small manageable thing in the eye of this unmanageable storm might be.
1. “I’ve gotten really into sending out cards! It’s fun to organize addresses and birthdays in a way where I actually remember them. It’s also a triple whammy of supporting small business by buying cards, supporting the USPS, and making my friends feel appreciated!” —@hannahmusicale
2. “Making Google slides for EVERYTHING. School, work, my journal, random thoughts, rabbit hole research at 2 a.m., everything. So many detailed presentations about the most random shit.” —@moontwerk
3. “Making sure there are no dirty dishes in the sink before I go to bed. Not only does this give me a sense of accomplishment each day, but it ensures that my kitchen, which has become my workspace, is clean and good to go.” —@LRocketto
4. “Cross stitching! Lots and lots of flowers and colorful pretty things. Requires concentration and focus, but once I am comfortable with the design, it’s also nice to sit back and listen to an audiobook along the way. It’s so satisfying to see the end project come together.” —@chasingfaes
5. “Playing chess online (thank you, Queen’s Gambit).” —@ClaireMBiggs
6. “Slowly organizing a Mason jar of beads by color.” —@sammynickalls (Click through to see how beautiful!)
7. “I now have a goal of creating one thing per day. It doesn’t have to be productive, so it gives me a lot of freedom to listen to what I actually want to create. I’ve gotten back into sewing, creative writing, video editing, etc.” —@byalissasmith
8. “Digital housekeeping—migrating to a better email service, organizing digital photos, prettying up my personal website.” —@CasseyLottman
9. “Doing my hair every day. I never used to care and just let it dry however, and now I actually blow-dry and style.” —@ClareAliceRoth
10. “I have to make my bed every day. Never made it ever until the pandemic.” —@lisagoldbergpr
11. “Decorating my apartment and buying things I’d been needing to buy. TV stand, cat tree, dining room chairs. But I’m also broke, so all on a budget.” —@alyseruriani
12. “Gardening! Feels very good to keep something alive (yes, I also keep my child alive, but gardening makes me feel absolutely capable, whereas parenting makes me feel like a bumbling dumb-dumb).” —@AriannaRebolini
14. “I started making candles because my apartment is dark and it’s more cost-effective.” —@gabrielleasmith
15. “I taught myself how to finally do winged eyeliner.” —@agnesvodka
16. “I started a sourdough starter back in April like everyone else, but I’m still maintaining it and baking a loaf once a week. Sometimes I don’t want to, but the consistency is comforting.” —@thisisrachelle
17. “Diamond painting, kinda like paint-by-number but with little plastic gems. I call it my Karen Krafts because I imagine that the target audience is middle-aged women. They’ve been really helpful, though.” —@mcclapp
18. “My partner and I have started doing jigsaw puzzles together. Feels like a nice, low-pressure thing to focus energy into while tuning out the world and not looking at a screen. It also feels like more deliberate time spent together than, say, just working in the same room.” —@FABlichert
19. “Sudoku. I have done so much Sudoku as coping.” —@allonsyjeni
Tweets have been edited for length and clarity.