Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable: the lesson of covid-19

by Chris Parrott

And here it is: the 2020-21 school year is upon us and yet, we are still grappling with the uncertainty and unpredictability that is now the hallmark of life during the Covid-19 pandemic. We thought we might have had some answers and some strong solutions by now, but such is not the case. It can be maddening. Yet, it can also be a lesson for us: life is simply inherently uncertain and so if we are going to live life fully, we need to be able to live it well even in times of uncertainty.

For most of us, uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. Indeed, uncertainty, unpredictability and a lack of control are the golden nuggets that feed that little beast called anxiety. Instinctively, our minds and bodies like situations that are controllable, predictable and certain. In evolutionary terms, such situations helped to keep us alive. When situations are not that way, our lower brains can be activated, bringing on the feeling of anxiety that demands comfort and seeks control. Unfortunately, none of that is available in this current crisis: we can’t be comforted by solutions or control the ever-changing myriad of scenarios this pandemic is putting in front of us.

That leaves us, and the parents with whom we work, one option: to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. This pandemic is providing the opportunity to recognize and come to terms with the uncertainty of life. When we do that, we can fully embrace our present circumstances in a state that allows us to manage them and learn from them, rather than to be fearful of them. Instead of fighting against the feeling that we are uncomfortable, we can use it for what it is—an indication that a challenge needs our attention and problem-solving skills.

Here’s the conundrum though, problem-solving skills do not reside in the lower areas of the brain with are the parts of the brain that are activated by anxiety. The synapses that control problem solving skills, self-control and analytical thinking reside in the upper areas of our brains—the prefrontal cortex—which can only be accessed when we have turned off the worried reactions of the lower brain. Once the lower brain is calm, we have access to the parts of our brains that allow us to make solid decisions— we can meet challenges with the skills that will allow us to rise to them and better ourselves.