Dealing with the certainty of uncertainty

Social psychologists are trying to help us understand how we may be feeling at this stage in the pandemic. One of the challenges is that we are in a state of flux, constantly adapting to changing circumstances as cases rise and fall and rise again and as lockdown regulations change. We are enjoying a respite as we emerge from the third wave, but we know that we may be dealing with a fourth wave in the not-too-distant future.

As places and activities open up, we may be surprised by the mix of feelings we have. Some are happy to get back into as many activities as possible, while others carry more anxiety. Family members have differing views on things like vaccination and whether it’s okay for vaccinated family members to meet unmasked and a hug can be sources of stress. Some found they are more productive working from home and resent coming back to the office. Some may have enjoyed worshipping online from home, finding it a precious family ritual and now feel ambivalent about returning to in-person church. It’s hard to get excited about reunions with overseas family as there is always the fear of closed borders or new quarantine requirements.

We are confronted with many decisions about how to live now. The only certainty is that things are in a state of flux and that nothing is certain. Some of us experience guilt that our families and we have gotten through relatively unscathed, while others we know have been hospitalised or lost loved ones. We may also experience guilt about not enjoying gatherings long looked forward to as much as we thought we would.

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, coined the term: “Pandemic Flux Syndrome.” She says our “surge capacity” is depleted. Surge capacity is the energy that flows in a crisis giving us the physical and emotional capacity to cope and helping us to be creative and connect with others. Surge capacity is activated for short term disasters. What happens when we are living in a pandemic for twenty months and counting is that capacity runs out. We haven’t had enough downtime to replenish it. Cuddy suggests that we need to recognise and acknowledge that each of us has experienced loss – “and that we must recognise that – in ourselves and each other. And realise that grieving is natural and necessary if we are to progress towards rebuilding.”

If you wonder why you are feeling stressed or anxious, or lacking enthusiasm for life, given that things are so much better than they were two months ago, it’s normal. Many others feel that way too!

Keep doing things that replenish; sleep and exercise; journal your feelings; take sacred pauses; make a change you have control over – like painting a room a new colour; do something creative; notice the small things you are grateful for each day. Above all, remember that God’s love is the one constant on which you can depend.

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

a.paulin-campbell@jesuitinstitute.org.za @annemariepc_c
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