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Flow as a tool during a time of uncertainty

Two for You — take two minutes to live and lead with intention

Episode 4.21

Uncertainty has been one of the themes of 2020. For many of us, uncertainty can take a toll on our physical and mental health. Research by Dr. Kate Sweeny of UC Riverside has found effective coping strategies to get through periods of waiting.



Note: Two for You written transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before referencing content in print.

[Denise] Hello and welcome to Two for You. Today, we're excited to have Dr. Kate Sweeney with us. She's a psychology professor at UC Riverside. And Dr. Sweeney's research has been around the concept of waiting during times of uncertainty. And she's here to share with us a little bit about what she has found and also some tips that we can put into play in our own communities. Thank you and welcome.

[Dr. Sweeney] Thanks for having me.

[Denise] So can you give us a little bit about the research that you've been doing and what are some of the fun findings that you have

 [Dr. Sweeney] Yes. So for my entire career, almost two decades now, I've been studying the stress, stressful experience of waiting and uncertainty. Most of the time what that means in my research is studying waiting periods where you're waiting for some kind of news. So whether you pass an exam, biopsy result, outcome of a job application. Those kind of close ended, like acute periods of uncertainty that we experience throughout our lives.

But right now we're all experiencing kind of a global sense of uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. And what we found already in some very recent research is that the kinds of things that make a waiting period stressful are also making this period of kind of generalized uncertainty very stressful. We don't know what's coming, we don't know when this will end, when we can go back to our normal lives. And so we've also found in our research that it's really hard to cope with these periods when you don't know what's coming and you don't have a lot of control over those outcomes.

Thankfully, we have found at least one strategy that seems to work pretty well for at least passing the time and reducing the stress a little bit. And that is finding flow states. So a flow state is a state of being completely absorbed in some kind of activity. It tends to work best if it's something you enjoy. But also that challenges you, that kind of pushes your skill level and where you can track your progress.

If you can kind of add those three things together then you're going to be able to tolerate uncertainty a bit better. Even self-isolation may not seem quite so stressful during this period. And just overall, it will help to pass the time and is somewhat more pleasant way.

[Lori] Do you think about like, how do you cultivate a space in your life to create this flow experience?

[Dr. Sweeney] Yeah, so some activities are really custom-made for flow. So video games, for example, are quite literally designed to get you in the state. They get harder as you get better and you get lots of feedback on your process.

[Lori] Why they're addictive right?

[Dr. Sweeney] Yeah. Right. Exactly. That's why people play all day and all night sometimes. Yeah, they've done that to you. It's very intentional. And there's lots of other kind of gamified type activities that are really custom-made for this.

But frankly, you can turn any activity into a flow activity if you'd just find ways to challenge yourself a bit and track your progress. So why are people obsessed with making bread right now? I think it's because they're trying to find that perfect loaf of bread and that process of trying to get there is getting them into a flow state.

[Lori] Yeah. Well, Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. There you go. This month as you think about your own waiting and we're how you're feeling, with this time of uncertainty. Find ways where you can increase challenge and track your progress to really kind of get in the state of flow as you live and lead with intention.

Authors: Lori Rothstein and Denise Stromme, former Extension educators

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