A tonic for uncertain times
Set achievable goals and focus on what is going well in your life
Almost a decade on from the global economic crash, about the only thing we can be certain of is that the uncertainty will continue.
The links between job insecurity and health issues are well known, but research by Jane Ferrie and colleagues at University College London throws up an interesting angle.
They gave questionnaires on both physical and psychological health to more than 3,300 civil servants for the years 1995-96 and 1997-99 and found that of the three groups — those who lost job security during this period, those who gained it, and those whose work status remained uncertain throughout — the worst health problems were reported by participants whose work status remained uncertain.
Those who lost job security were next, but even those whose jobs had become secure again still reported lingering problems two years later.
Since the late ’60s, when the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, began investigating the impact of what he called “learned helplessness,” psychologists have noted that we are more likely to suffer lasting psychological disturbance — in particular, low selfesteem and depression — when forced to live with adverse events that we can’t control.
It is also true that when parents face economic uncertainty their children may also suffer, as shown by William Schneider and colleagues at Columbia University. They looked at the mental health of more than 3,000 children from 2007 to 2010 and found that boys whose parents faced financial uncertainty and hardship were more likely than their peers to face emotional and/or behavioural problems.
However, not all the effects are bad. Larissa Tiedens and Susan Linton, of the Stanford Business School, found that we pay more attention to the quality of arguments when asked to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. When life feels more predictable, we tend to go with the prevailing view or rely on what experts tell us. Uncertainty, it seems, makes us less lazy and more careful in our decisions.
So, what can you do to make an unpredictable time less stressful and perhaps even beneficial? Focus on what’s going well: Keep a daily diary in which you record the best thing that happens each day. Look back at this whenever you’re feeling anxious.
Set small, achievable goals: Each week, set yourself one aim that you can definitely achieve. For example, plan an inexpensive but enjoyable treat during the weekend.
Keep a daily diary in which you record the best thing that happens each day. Look back at this whenever you’re feeling anxious.
Take care: Chronic stress can suppress the immune system so make sure that you eat healthily, observe a pleasant evening routine that will get you off to bed early, and take regular aerobic exercise that you enjoy.
Give quality time to those you love: Schneider found that children whose parent or parents were warm, caring and supportive were less distressed.
A study of more than 3,300 civil servants found that of those who lost job security, those who gained it and those whose status remained uncertain — the worst health problems were reported by those whose work status was uncertain.