How can we cope with the uncertainty in the face of the current pandemic?

According to experts, the next two weeks are critical for the spread of the COVID-19 in Hong Kong as many Hongknogers came back from abroad before 19 March 2020.  The number of confirmed cases increases more rapidly in the past one week and people are less cautious in preventing being infected.  This may increase the uncertainty of whether the outbreak will be under control soon. It is projected that the unemployment rate will increase and the economic downturn will persist. The schooling suspension is extended and even DSE is postponed. Apart from the fear of being infected by the disease, people also worried about the uncertainty in employment, finance, study and other daily activities.

According to economists, John Kay and Mervyn King, we need to differentiate between risk and uncertainty. Risk is unknown which can be defined by probability, but uncertainty cannot be defined in such a way. Uncertainty is the outcome of our incomplete knowledge of the world. In fact, there are so many variables to consider when we try to predict an outcome in a certain situation. For the current pandemic, there are unknown unknowns that we face affecting our prediction of the development of it. If there are unknown unknowns, how can we cope with these uncertainties?

It is inevitable for us to experience anxiety in the face of such uncertainty. Instead of panicking and trying to be as certain as possible, we need to embrace the uncertainty as it is. We need to accept the fact that we all have unknown unknowns to face in our lives. When we experience anxiety associated with the uncertainty, we can observe our bodily sensations and cognitions. By observing the bodily sensations of anxiety, we are trying to get in touch with the anxiety and be with it. By observing the cognitions, especially our worries, we can acknowledge our thoughts and detach from it. This can reduce our tendency to ruminate about our worrying thoughts. In this way, our anxiety can be managed in a manageable level.

When we manage our anxiety to a manageable level, we can try to acquire more information and practical knowledge about the pandemic. In this way, we can use our newly acquired knowledge to cope better with the situation. Social resource is also important in the face of the uncertainty, as collective intelligence is beneficial for us to make the unknown unknowns to become known unknowns. The emotional support from our social network is also important for our psychological health.

You may dislike uncertainty as it increases our anxiety and reduces our sense of control. On the other hand, uncertainty brings us new opportunities and makes our lives richer. Even though we do not have total control in our lives, we can still enjoy our present moment experiences with courage and self-compassion.

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