The main task of the human brain is to predict what will happen to us, so it can tell the rest of our body what to do to survive. Therefore, our brains crave predictability. The brain hates uncertainty because in moments of uncertainty the brain cannot do its job properly: protecting us and taking care of our wellbeing.
Life is not completely predictable. It is always a bit uncertain. But now, with the Covid-19 pandemic, life is more uncertain than ever. There are so many things we don’t know and that we cannot predict:
- Will they find a vaccine? Soon? When?
- Will we ever go back to normal? And if not, what will the ‘new normal’ look like?
- Will there be a second wave?
- Will I get infected? Will my loved ones catch Covid-19?
- What about the economy? Is my job at risk as well?
- Will we have to wear face coverings for the rest of our lives?
- What is the time scale for the easing of restrictions? And what if the rate of infections goes up again?
So many questions remain unanswered. Every time a new phase with new measures starts, new questions and new uncertainties arise.
That is why uncertainty is now probably a bigger threat for our physical and mental wellbeing than the virus itself. We are facing an amount of uncertainty that is much bigger than what most of us can cope with. This heightened uncertainty makes many of us anxious and stressed. And for autistic people, all these uncertainties come on top of the uncertainties that ‘normal’ life brings along for them.
That is the bad news.
But here is the good news.
The human brain has an excellent capacity for learning. Maybe you’ve heard about it: brain plasticity. This means that your brain can learn to deal with this heightened uncertainty and gain confidence again. And this will make you feel less anxious and stressed.
I wrote an article for Scottish Autism with tips to teach your brain to deal with all the current uncertainties. You can also use these tips to support autistic people who are worried, stressed and anxious but then you will have to make them more concrete and you will need to visualize things and plan them in their day schedule and/or routines.
You could also make a personalized workbook for yourself or for an autistic person. A good inspiration is this Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook from The Welness Society. Here too, if you want to use it with a person on the autism spectrum, you will need to make it autism friendly.