Whoever started the “It literally feels like January 74th” meme is a genius who captured a mood in six words. Have you seen it? If not, behold a phrase that captures the first full month of winter, also known as the post-holiday slump, back to the real world, the uphill challenge, or as it’s known in Spanish “La cuesta de enero”.
Winter. Another one of Mother Nature’s not-so-subtle reminders that we are not in charge. She will shorten the days, make the weather colder, and we can just deal with our feelings about it for all she cares. It’s as if she’s bored with our pathetic whining about wanting the sunshine back.
I have yet to fall asleep at my keyboard, but I won’t pretend these rainy cloud-covered days make me want to take a long nap and be a little less productive until the longer days come back. And you know what? That’s okay. I often hear people around me say things like: “I know I should work on this project, but I’m just so tired and lazy“. Laziness and being affected by changes in the seasons aren’t the same. Most people I know are doing their best and living their lives way beyond the boundary of their comfort zone. It’s okay to be tired. Plus now, it’s winter. Rather than dismissing fatigue as laziness, what if we consider it feedback from our bodies that we need a nap? A happy light? Perhaps a vitamin D supplement? Or maybe a trip to the Bahamas. You do whatever needs doing to cope with uncertainty.
Uncertainty: a Dance of Control and Surrender
After nearly six months of traveling, I came back to Memphis and did my best to get settled into a routine and stay ahead of the winter fatigue. To be honest, I scheduled out the first few weeks of January in my calendar two weeks before I got back because I love making plans. Also, I’ve learned that when I’m faced with shorter and colder days having things on the calendar makes getting out of the house less of a dilemma.
Making plans also gives me a sense of control during times of uncertainty. There’s a lot I love about working freelance, but that price of admission comes with a lot of uncertainty. There are highs and lows. The best days are knowing that you’re doing good work in the world for people who appreciate your contributions in a location of your choosing. The toughest days are spent trying to figure out how to do the best work possible while also figuring out how to get more work.
If you’re struggling with the anxiety of the unknown or wishing you had more power to control your future, please know that you’re not alone. Here are ten ways to cope with uncertainty.
Ten Ways to Cope with Uncertainty
1. Talk About It
There is so much power in speaking out what you’re experiencing. Find a good empathetic listener or a therapist or coach. My favorite kinds of listeners have a great blend of empathy and accountability. When I describe something I’m struggling with and ask for feedback, their response looks like this: “That sounds so hard. You’re doing the best you can. Do you have any ideas for what you can focus on right now?”
2. Play the “Look Back” Game
Have you ever stopped and reflected back on your life on how you got to where you are today? I call this the “Look Back” game. Think of great achievements or your favorite relationships. Maybe it’s a job that you’re proud to have. How did you get it? What were the steps? Did you reach out to anyone to network?
I think about how I first got into education back in 2004. I was uncertain of what to do with my life after I earned my bachelor’s degree in Spanish. I shared this with a friend’s mother who was a high school guidance counselor who said: “You’d make a great teacher”. So I enrolled in graduate school, a year-long program of theory and practicum and was soon ready to teach middle and high school Spanish and ESL. I ended up needing more than a year to finish my program, which meant I graduated but missed the hiring season. I went back to working the same job I had before grad school at the college bookstore, feeling more confused than ever about my future which is where a customer came in who taught in the international academic English program. She suggested that I apply and I was hired two months later for spring semester. I worked at that university for 12 years. Along the way, I wanted to work abroad to further my career. I started asking around for short-term working opportunities and one woman told me about her experience at a rural university in Japan. I applied and I’ve been working there nearly every summer for the past eight summers. You get the picture. This game can go on and on. I find it to be an effective exercise in gratitude to the people and places and experiences that have put me in the way of where I am now.
3. Leave Your Laptop
You heard it here first: a watched inbox never fills. Whenever I’m waiting to hear back from someone about an email or a reply to a text, I never get it. When I leave my laptop and go do other things in the world, the inbox fills, the text arrives, the answers appear. Every. Single Time.
4. Set Reasonable Goals
There are real-life deadlines in the world. So get your planners out and do your best to give yourself extra time to get these deadlines met. You are not a robot, so don’t kill yourself thinking that the hustle will always payout to you. There’s no guarantee. Do good work and do it sustainably do the best of your abilities. If you get sidetracked or derailed by one of life’s many disruptions, make an intelligent and reasonable plan to get yourself back on track. This is also a good opportunity to check in with your boundary setting at work and at home.
5. Show Up Anyway
Sometimes I get a huge case of the I-don’t-wannas. Maybe I’m tired or just feeling irritable or fully ready to face humanity on a given day. In any case, 99 percent of the time I get out and go do the scheduled thing I promised myself I’d do. Usually, this is a yoga class or a run or a walk. For those rare one percent occasions when I feel regret instead of contentment for lovingly kicking myself out of the house, I take that as feedback that I really am tired and not feeling well and that I need to give myself some rest and recuperation time.
6. Finish Your Own Projects
I’m speaking directly to freelancers, military spouses, or anyone else who finds themselves with large swaths of time that they aren’t getting paid for. A long stint of uncertainty is a great time to finish your own projects. Can’t know or control the future? You can control your own projects, oh yes you can. You know, the things you’ve always wished you had more time for, but never get around to finishing because there are other priorities to focus on? Make a plan, make some progress, then celebrate when you finish!
7. Get Physical
I cannot stress the value of listening in to the voice of inner truth. The answers to the questions that play on repeat ad nauseam in my mind can always be answered by accessing internal wisdom. This calm voice of inner truth will help me figure out the next right thing if I allow it to emerge (there’s my word for 2020 again!) Usually that truth gets delivered to me during a yoga practice, a meditation session, a walk in the fresh air, a journaling session, or even a dream. Whatever contemplative physical practice allows truth to bubble up in you, I invite you to do all you can to call forth your voice of inner wisdom to keep yourself steady during times of uncertainty.
8. Eat Well
I’m not a medical professional or a nutritionist, but a friend of mine Audrey Laurelton is and she has very simple advice to feel better now: hydrate, sleep, be aware of your blood sugar. I’d like to add on a winter-time reminder to get your vitamin D levels checked by your doctor. Taking multivitamins in the afternoon gives me a boost. Some people swear by light therapy. Investigate what works for you.
9. Get 7-8 Hours of Sleep
If you’re struggling to get this, I urge you to seek professional help. Getting enough sleep is a cornerstone to good physical and mental health. I am such a sleep diva. If I get less than seven hours of sleep, nothing feels okay.
10. Get Some Light
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I know people who swear by light therapy, which involves purchasing and sitting in front of a light that will project 10,000 lumens. This year I almost broke down to get one. If purchasing a lightbox is out of your price range, do your best to get outside when the sun is at its peak between 12 noon to two in the afternoon.
If you’re struggling with a one-two punch of uncertainty and seasonal changes, please know that you’re not alone. If you have any tips or suggestions for how to get through uncertain times the dark and dreary months of winter, please comment and let us all know how you get through it.
Breathe and believe, beauties.