10 Tips for Staying Motivated During Uncertain Times

We have all likely experienced feeling overwhelmed at some point, whether when studying at uni, during the pandemic or through difficult periods of our lives. You may feel stressed, anxious, fearful or just lacking in motivation and this might have an impact on your ability to control your emotions, think rationally, or complete simple tasks. You could even experience physical symptoms, such as a tightness in your chest, tension in your body or fatigue.

‘When we have too many demands on our thinking over an extended period of time, cognitive fatigue can also happen, making us more prone to distractions and our thinking less agile. Any of these effects, alone, can make us less effective and leave us feeling even more overwhelmed.’ – Harvard Business Review

Whatever you are going through at the moment, you could try these things to help you get back on track and feeling motivated.

1. Take a step back

Firstly, it’s important to try and figure out the main sources of your overwhelm. Have a think about what is causing you to feel stressed or anxious and write those feelings down. Whilst there might not be an obvious or immediate solution, just understanding the source of the problem can provide you with some clarity and put things into perspective. Focus on the things you can control, even if that’s controlling how much time or energy you spend worrying. You could also try to Identify your triggers and your reactions to these triggers, so that you can try and stop doing both – for example if you spend hours watching the news or reading upsetting things before bed, and this makes you feel bad – stop doing this!
‘By identifying and debunking these beliefs over time, they were able to broaden their previously contracted view of the world, which in turn allowed them to reduce their overwhelm and provided them with a greater sense of agency’. – Harvard Business Review


2. Be kind to yourself

This is often easier said than done. You may be feeling frustrated with yourself for not being productive or for being oversensitive. But it’s important to recognise that everyone reacts to different situations in different ways. You are going to have bad days and tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start. So, give yourself a break, practice self-care and talk to yourself kindly.


3. Mindfulness

‘The practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present and acknowledging and accepting the feelings, thoughts, or bodily sensations happening in the moment as a way to calm or clarify the mind’ – Enterprisers Project
When we are feeling overwhelmed, we are often thinking about the future, all the things we have to do and all the problems we are going to have. Bringing yourself into the present moment helps you to be more self-aware of any negative thoughts or behaviours that you may be having.  Mindfulness can help calm your nerves, reduce anxiety and help with insomnia.


4. Exercise

Exercise has many benefits: it can help lift your mood, releasing endorphins; it is a great stress reliever, and can help with insomnia. It’s even better if you can exercise outside where you can get some fresh air and vitamin D. By building exercise into your routine, you’re likely to feel like you’ve accomplished something. For me, swimming is a great because it doesn’t feel like exercise, and it helps clear my mind – I think about the movement and nothing else!

5. Sleep well

Getting enough sleep is essential for functioning well physically and mentally. It is important to maintain your natural rhythm and body clock. Personally, I find getting up early works really well for me – if I can get a few tasks ticked off the to do list before 9am, it sets me up really well for the day.


6. Talk about your feelings

This is something we all know is important, but perhaps don’t do. Try to take a proactive approach to dealing with your emotions; talk about your struggles with those people who make you feel safe and comfortable. Together, you can come up with a plan for how to move forward, and they can help keep you accountable if you need it.


7. Re-find your purpose

During uncertain or overwhelming times, it’s easy to feel lost, as though you aren’t moving forward. Having no sense of purpose can make you feel dissatisfied, unfulfilled and lacking in self-worth. According to PsychCentral, having a purpose can ‘improve your mood and your ability to manage intense emotions’. Finding a temporary purpose might help you feel better – perhaps you could reach out to help others that may be struggling, or sign up for some dog walking or some other volunteering.


8. Create routine

During times of uncertainty, it’s important to have some things that you can predict and control. This is where a routine comes in. Filling your day will also stop you sitting and thinking about your difficult situation. Research suggests that ‘implementing a structure to your day can give you a sense of control. It can also improve your focus, organisation and productivity’ – Very Well Mind

Try writing out to do lists either for life or for work. For me, I found breaking down tasks and writing out times that I wanted to do them by helped make the tasks seem more manageable, and also helped me stick to them.


9. Give yourself ‘thinking time’

Some people prefer to find distractions during difficult times, but you might find it hard to concentrate on anything if you don’t acknowledge the thoughts taking up space in your mind. Journaling or writing down your thoughts can help to get them out of your head, and help you make sense of them.


10. Do things you enjoy

Even when you have a to do list as long as your arm and you aren’t being as productive as you’d like, you still need to make time to do things that cheer you up!


If you are really struggling and need some extra help, please speak to someone or seek advice from a medical professional.


Find out more:

Grad Bites: Dealing with Stress – Mindfulness

Stress Less

How to Manage Stress – Symptoms, Sources and Solutions