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Embracing uncertainty and mental health in a world influx

In October 2020, the Melton Foundation organized a Mental Well-being Workshop for members of the network. Hosted by Senior Melton Fellow Dr. Vernice Richards, a Ph.D. holder in Sports Psychology and Performance Psychology Consultant, the workshop explored a topic deeply resonant with the current background of the COVID-19 pandemic - ‘Uncertainty’. As emphasized at the very beginning of the event, the objective of the workshop was to make one feel uncomfortable, get out of one’s comfort zone, and ask and answer some serious questions. 

The session kicked off by addressing the elephant in the room. The participants were asked to enunciate the meaning of uncertainty. In response, the majority of them agreed that uncertainty is all about questions, questions, and questions.

Uncertainty places before us a variety of mysterious queries and breeds restlessness within us when we find ourselves struggling to answer them. 

Dr. V duly noted that one of the ways to beat uncertainty was to keep asking questions and most importantly – to keep answering them. Each answer infuses clarity into our foggy vision and eases our mind. 

Next, the participants were asked to identify their position on the uncertainty index. The uncertainty index is a spectrum, ranging from debilitating levels of unpredictability to having firm control over things. The response favored the middle ground between the two extremes – the tendency of oscillating between uncertainty and certainty from time to time. To combat this, Dr. Richards suggested seeing one’s emotions from the right perspective. By viewing our conundrums from the correct angle, we can better assess the gravity of the situation.

To build upon the understanding of uncertainty further, the participants were asked to link their feelings with specific words. Uncertainty can mean a lot of things – confused, lost, perplexed, puzzled, unclear, disoriented, etc. Once we confer a ‘name’ to our state of mind, we profess upon it a degree of clarity. 

Dr. V shares : 

“When you are faced with an uncertain situation, it is the brain’s defense mechanism to not put the situation into a category. Uncertainty wants you to live in the grey areas and read between the lines.”

Uncertainty, in a nutshell, is the feeling of being stuck in a cyclic rut of random and unpredictable events. It masquerades as a whole ton of challenges or issues which you did not even know existed. That said, the fact remains that it is an inescapable part of life. If we knew everything beforehand, life would be bereft of any experiment or excitement.

An engaging and stimulating exercise was in store for the participants to help them navigate their way through uncertainty and seek out viable solutions. Aptly coined ‘Stack the Deck’, the exercise consisted of six steps in total, each building upon the momentum and getting closer to realizing certainty. By identifying their top priorities, consolidating and categorizing their points of concern, and listing down actionable targets, the participants dispelled the aura of uncertainty and replaced it with a coherent framework. 

Furthermore, to equip our Fellows to achieve their targets, Dr. Richards presented them with a set of habits and actions they could take to address their top priorities. Amongst other things, she underlined the need to manage stress and anxiety and get a daily dose of exercise to invigorate and activate oneself. Most significantly, she highlighted the need to root oneself in the present and stay mindful of the circumstances as and when they come. As quoted by her : 

“Uncertainty lives in the future. Regret lives in the past. If you are feeling either, you are not focusing on the present.” 

The exercise was followed by an interactive Q&A session, where Melton Fellows asked Dr. Richards a plethora of questions. As the session wrapped up, the attendees took away with them valuable insights and takeaways. To summarise briefly: it is necessary to allow yourself to feel uncertainty. Once you have accepted and acknowledged it, it is imperative to organize one’s thoughts and emotions into a consolidated list and tackle it by assigning priorities to certain tasks. Moreover, to beat uncertainty we must proactively engage ourselves with physical activities and mindfulness, because as poignantly pointed out by Dr. V:

“The biggest war you’ll ever fight is the one between your ears.”

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