Planning When Planning Seems Futile

Dr. Faye Fried-Walkenfeld Shares Top Tips for Living with Unknowns

June 15, 2020
Anxiety during COVID-19 can be daunting
Anxiety during COVID-19 can be daunting

We are all living in limbo. We do not know whether tomorrow we will be in lockdown or free to roam, wearing mandatory masks or walking carefree. So, how are we to schedule our lives? How are we to plan for the normal events that require organization and decision making such as weddings, summer vacations, children’s camps and education? 

These are important questions and it helps to look at why they are making us so uncomfortable before answering them.

In our lives before the pandemic, we made solid schedules, and that gave us a sense of control. We knew when things would happen and could strategize accordingly. There was order in our lives and there was a certainty in knowing that things were set in time and would happen as planned.

COVID-19 turned our lives upside down. No longer can we count on our plans. Gone is our sense of control, and we simply do not know what tomorrow will bring. Just as things seem to be calming down, we are being faced with racial unrest which is causing other restrictions on our autonomy.

So, how do we go about our lives? How can we schedule when all plans can be upended at any given moment?

First, let’s acknowledge that the key issue is anxiety:

  • Anxiety about our new normal, which does not allow for secure long-term planning
  • Anxiety about an illness which can easily spread, which doctors do not understand and which we are all learning about together
  • Anxiety about being around others for fear of the spread of illness

We have all seen the lack of knowledge and shifting advice on how to manage the pandemic, as well as the health and economic toll the pandemic has taken. So, how can we manage stress about real-time events for which we do not have easy solutions?

The way to deal with anxiety is to assess its reality, how much of the situation causing the anxiety we can control, and what we can do to help the situation, in a manner that will be conducive to long-term growth.

  1. We need to change our mindset and relinquish control. All we can do is come up with various plans, Plan A, Plan B and Plan C… and recognize that in the end we may have to go with Plan Z… which is whatever is available. 
  2. Learning to take things in stride is the only way we can move forward. As long as people stay stuck and feel they cannot schedule unless they “know”, they will not be able to move forward in the current climate.
  3. Don’t fall prey to negative thinking such as, “what’s the point in scheduling if the plan will likely need to be revised anyway?” Instead, plan for various scenarios, so you have a number of options to choose from when the moment for implementation arrives; you then will know what the choices were and what is still available.
  4. Strive to reach the point between straddling the line and staying open to many options.
  5. Acknowledge that you will still have anxiety but that you are doing your best. Let yourself feel the anxiety and let it pass. Emotions are transitory--they come and go. They go more easily when we can get in touch with ourselves and relax our bodies through mindful relaxation techniques.
  6. Learn to be mindful and practice relaxation techniques such as:
    1. Deep breathing
    2. Hot baths
    3. Listening to music
    4. Journaling

 

Dr. Faye Fried-Walkenfeld is a psychologist and chair of the Department of Behavioral Science at Touro College School of Health Sciences. She is also chair and associate professor of Touro’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.