Making Peace with Uncertainty

Close up of feet walking in the rain

The article below, written by Avanti High School Counselor Heather Kazda, is adapted for teachers from a message she wrote for parents in a recent Avanti High School newsletter. Thank you, Heather, for agreeing to share this article with all employees in Here’s the Scoop.

This morning during an individual appointment with a student over Zoom, he exclaimed, “I’m using ALL of my coping skills and IT’S NOT WORKING!” It was a poignant moment and we laughed together, but the truth of it is stark — the ways we have managed our lives and emotions may not work as well in this time we have entered. There is no coping strategy, no mindfulness practice, that can keep us from these truths: our world has changed drastically, we have lost much, the future is uncertain. As I write this, our COVID numbers are climbing and another shutdown order has been enacted. We are being asked to weather another wave of uncertainty that takes us further from knowing when or even if we will be able to return to hybrid or in-person learning this year. We must sit with not knowing and the difficult emotions that ensue.

How do we support ourselves and our children in this loss of certainty and predictability? First and foremost, we do it together, not alone. We must get fiercely committed to connecting how we can. We strengthen the bonds and the bounds of compassion and unconditional love in our own households. We call, Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp and do whatever is possible to see and be present with those we love and those who need us.  We reach out to those struggling more than ourselves and notice that doing so makes our hearts feel more alive. We stand outside in the rain and cold to talk to a neighbor or a friend because those moments of connection help keep us grounded in our community and humanity.

Many of us feel more distracted, scattered and deeply exhausted than ever before. Neuroscience tells us that screens increase depression and irritability and limit our capacity to focus and connect. Yet, there is no escaping screens in this era. I have been working with students to be aware of their bodies and their surroundings even as they are Zooming or completing assignments. It is important to toggle back and forth between the two environments in which we are living (physical and virtual). Noticing the breath, leaning away from the screen and into our back body, and turning our head slowly and gently from side-to-side to orient to our environment are all practices that can help bring us back to the present. It is wise to practice at least one of these strategies for every twenty minutes of screen time as well as to look away from the screen to reduce eye strain.

Other lovely ways to regulate: get up and dance to one song (with gusto), run outside when the sun breaks through, skip up and down the street on a five-minute break,  do 10 push ups as a sensory break (wall or floor), sing a favorite song while walking around the house in between Zoom sessions, take a weekly family yoga class or a nightly after dinner walk. We must deliberately clear time for and invite joy, because it may not appear as naturally as it once did. A quote from Dr. Stuart Brown, who has studied the purpose of play extensively: “The opposite of play is not work — it’s depression.” These words (source unknown) have also been inspiring me, “It is through joy that one resists.” 

The to-do list is never ending; we must decide to STOP, REST and PLAY while tasks remain undone. Moving our bodies through any exercise practice that works for us has never been more important. Remembering to eat every few hours is imperative (especially for young folks who lose track of time and hunger while on screens) and a consistent sleep schedule is vital. While these practices won’t stop us from feeling worry and sadness, they will help us manage uncertainty and maintain our capacity to experience joy and connection. When the future is uncertain, the safest and wisest place to live is right NOW — here together with those we love.

In meeting the heavy presence of uncertainty, we must feel and be in touch daily with our own vitality and genius (the unique gifts we give the world), and we must help our students do the same. To help us connect with our aliveness, here are some questions we might ponder for ourselves and ask our students: When this week have you felt most alive? When today did you feel most like yourself? Looking back on this month, when were you most creative? When this week did you feel powerful or effective? We must look for and cultivate (particularly in our young people) the sparks of life, vitality, kindness and generosity that can pull us into a brighter future.

As we all work hard to educate/prepare our students for the future, it is wise to step back now and then and remember that much of our job is to help them claim and kindle what is already within. Knowing we simply cannot cover our content and curriculum in the way we once did, freedoms and new possibilities emerge, but only if we welcome them. What is most important for our students to receive from us at this moment? “When a person becomes aware of their genius and they live it and they give generously from it, they change the world,” says Michael Meade. The world our students are facing is uncertain and often frightening. How can we help them find in themselves that which will make life meaningful and worth living even under difficult conditions? What might we need to rekindle in ourselves that will help us replenish and continue to be of service in this time when we are so needed? What structures, habits or beliefs can we let go of to lighten our overwhelming load? Taking courageous leaps of faith in the way we are living and teaching may in fact be what great uncertainty is calling us to do. I look forward to hearing your stories.