How to Stay Focused during Crazy Times

It certainly has been a wild year so far—COVID being the biggest agent of chaos—but also, wildfires burning out of control, hurricanes, smoky air causing people to have to stay indoors, derechos, politics, and the 2020 election have made serenity and peace of mind very hard to maintain. Not to mention, is anyone sleeping well these days?

And yet, life goes on. And, we have things to do in our day-to-day lives that are important, that require our focus and concentration, no matter how distracted we may be by all the unrest happening around us. Whether that is a job to do or business to run, or children to tend, we must still keep living our lives.

Uncertainty is a major cause of all this unrest. Our brains do not like ambiguity, and perceive it as a threat. All our energy then goes to figuring out how to eliminate the danger, making it near-impossible to focus on any other projects.

“Research shows that job uncertainty, for example, tends to take a more significant toll on our health than actually losing our job. Similarly, research participants who were told that they had a 50% chance of receiving a painful electric shock felt far more anxious and agitated than participants who believed they were definitely going to receive the shock.”

—Christine Carter, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center

Fortunately, research has also discovered there are effective ways to combat the harmful effects of uncertainty.  With practice, these ways are accessible to all of us. 

Techniques to Cope with Uncertainty 


Instead of resisting and pushing against the current reality, strive to accept that this just is what is happening right now. Let go of the need to understand what and why, or how to fix it and just let it be. 

“To be clear, acceptance is not the same as resignation. Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that it will never get better. We don’t accept that things will stay the same forever; we only accept whatever is actually happening at the moment. Maybe it will get better, maybe it won’t. Practicing acceptance in the face of difficulty is hard, and it’s also the most effective way to move forward.”

—Christine Carter, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center

At the risk of sounding trite, these times truly are unprecedented. It is hardly surprising that we are all suffering so go ahead and feel your emotions about things that happen. Then, let that emotion float away so you can be about your business.


When you feel anxiety, your mind starts racing off into all sorts of what-if scenarios, imagining worse and worse outcomes. At that moment, it becomes very important to ground yourself in the now, to stay present. 

I have long used a grounding technique to bring myself back into my body by focusing on the feel of the ground beneath my feet, the shoes against my skin, my behind in the chair, my back against the chair back while taking slow breaths in and out. I have done this so many times over 30 years that my body goes immediately into a relaxed posture as soon as I start it.

During COVID, I have started to use all the times during the day that I wash my hands to really focus on my actions, to smell the soap and water, my hands rubbing against each other, the towel drying water off my hands. It has the effect of reminding me where I physically am, whether that is at home or office. Here is a bonus tip: I try to set an intention every day about what I am focusing on that day, ideally first thing in the morning. It can be an actual task or something esoteric like peace or calm. When I do the hand-washing, I remind myself of that day’s intention. It takes me out of the future worries and pulls me into the now, replacing the anxiety with something current.

So, 2020 has not been what any of us expected and definitely not what any of us wanted but it is our reality. It will be a moment in time that defines the rest of our lives, for sure. Someday, we will look back on this time and be able to put it into the context of our whole lives. Strive to be happy in the moment whenever you can, but mainly strive to be in the moment, and to really live the life you have. 


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