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Top 3 Ways to Manage Expectations During COVID-19

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There is no question that the COVID-19 virus and the resulting global crisis is affecting everyone on many different levels. What some thought was going to be a two-week lockdown has turned into a six-week lockdown or longer. There is little clarity of what the future will bring. One issue that is brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind is expectations. The reality is we all have expectations, whether we realize it or not. 

We may have expected that this crisis would last only for a couple of weeks. That has changed

We may have expected that only certain parts of our lives would be disrupted. That has changed

Students expected they may have an extra week or two added to their spring break but would eventually go back to school as normal. That has changed

When expectations go unmet, it raises a number of challenges. Some people deal very well with ambiguity and change, while for others it can feel disabling and dangerous.

Unmet expectations often result in feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and in extreme cases, serious health challenges. 

But hope is not lost. Here are three key skills you can develop today to begin to address the issues created by expectations, especially as together we face the COVID-19 global crisis. 

#1: Acknowledge Existing Expectations:

This is tricky since some of our expectations may come from societal or cultural norms sewn deeply into our personal worldview. We expect to have the freedom to gather with friends and get together with family wherever and whenever we want to. We expect to be able to travel to places we want to go. It is in times like these that we become aware of our expectations because they have been removed or violated in some way.

Taking time to acknowledge our expectations is an important step to learning how to manage them effectively. 

How do we acknowledge our expectations? One easy way is to list areas of your life (e.g., relationships, work habits, schedules, finances, communication, freedoms) and consider how each has changed. Then, take time to honestly evaluate whether there were expectations you had that have not been met. Sometimes getting those expectations out in the open can be helpful in terms of knowing what you are facing, rather than allowing these things to remain unknown. Bring the truth to light and then take steps forward with confidence. 

#2: Intentionally Set Realistic Expectations:

The shelter-in-place experience caused by the COVID-19 crisis is a good example of the way in which we let unrealistic expectations rule our lives. We’ve all seen the internet memes of “Day One” expectations for staying home: “Oh how wonderful that we are going to have time at home as a family and do all kinds of things together.” But by “Day Two”, things have changed dramatically, and the memes show frazzled and frustrated families ready to take their chances with the virus when compared to how awful their life stuck at home really is.

Life will not be ideal or perfect. Setting realistic expectations does not mean setting low expectations, though. Take time to work through what is reasonable, doable, and manageable. For example, in “normal,” pre-pandemic life, we may have had daily “to-do lists,” which we expected to complete each day. During shelter-in-place, we might only get one or two things done from that list. That is okay. That is a reflection of changing circumstances. Setting realistic expectations, in light of the reality of the circumstances, can help us avoid frustration, stress, and anxiety, and free us to see success as we accomplish what we set out to do.  

#3: Modify Unmet Expectations:

We cannot eliminate expectations from our lives. We all have them, whether we voice them or not. When we face the reality that our expectations were not met, we can then adjust them. Our capacity, resources, mental and emotional well-being, and a host of external factors will impact how achievable our expectations are. Be honest. Give grace. We as a nation and as the world are in truly unusual times that none of us expected. We will have to make some adjustments. Doing so intentionally will lead to better overall health and well-being. 

As church leaders, we can learn to develop these skills within ourselves, as well as help others work through them. This can be a valuable input to the lives of those around us. We can walk through these steps with our churches.  

  • Are there expectations we need to acknowledge or adjust? 
  • Are there expectations we were not fully aware of? 
  • What are reasonable expectations in light of the current circumstances?

While the current COVID-19 pandemic may present many challenges, we can use this unprecedented time to learn and develop skills that help us not only today but also as important life skills for the new normal as well. 

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