Uncertainty prevails in times of crisis. Patients with cancer are all too familiar with the initial uncertainty surrounding a cancer diagnosis, treatments, and adjusting to a new normal. Oncology nurses are seeing parallels with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as people worldwide face the unknowns of a health threat and the economic aftermath of the outbreak. Medical caregivers are confronting it head on as they work together to protect and tend to the physical and psychosocial needs of others.

What Research Tells Us

The Uncertainty in Illness Theory established four major components of appraising and adjusting to uncertainty : (a) prior experience with uncertainty, (b) evaluating the danger and opportunity in the situation, (c) coping with uncertainty, and (d) adaptation to the illness (or crisis). Importantly, information given during times of uncertainty affects adaptability.

The COVID-19 pandemic harbors the threat of illness, economic insecurity, and loss of freedoms and social interaction. Brooks et al. reviewed 24 articles on the effects of quarantine and social isolation to determine ways to mitigate the stress and the unknown related to disasters. The review revealed strategies that may be helpful:

• Obtaining clear and timely information

• Having adequate equipment and supplies

• Viewing social isolation as voluntary or altruistic

Self-care may get lost in the immediacy of others’ needs. However, caring for your own well-being in a time of stress is one of the most important ways to fortify your ability to effectively care for others.

How to Practice

Limit the amount of time you spend listening to news reports and reading social media. Focus instead on obtaining reliable and factual information from organizations engaged in dealing with the crisis (e.g., American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ONS.) Ensure you have the supplies and equipment needed to keep you and your loved ones safe and secure. Avoid panic buying and hoarding supplies by preemptively preparing for potential emergency situations. Finally, observe guidelines such as social distancing, shelter at home, and quarantine when required in the case of a pandemic.

Use your downtime to stimulate creativity and find opportunity to connect with others differently. A group of cousins chose to become COVID-19 pen pals and exchange handwritten letters during the shelter-at-home recommendations. Solutions don’t have to be big—just meaningful.