How to Deal with Times of Uncertainty
Uncertainty and anxiety about the future are a part of everyday life. Even though there are still a lot of factors beyond your control, having the right attitude will help you deal with challenging situations and face the future with confidence.
How uncertainty plays a part in life
Uncertainty is all around us, and it has never been more prevalent than today. Much of what lies ahead in life remains uncertain, whether it concerns a global pandemic, the economy, or your finances, health, and relationships. Yet, as humans, we seek security. We want to feel safe and in control of our lives and well-being. Fear and uncertainty can make you feel stressed, anxious, and powerless over your life’s course. It can emotionally drain you and trap you in a downward spiral of endless “what-ifs” and worst-case scenarios about what tomorrow might bring.
We all have different tolerances for uncertainty in life. Some people appear to enjoy taking risks and living unpredictable lives, whereas others find the randomness of life frustrating.
Developing the ability to deal with uncertainty
While we may not want to admit it, uncertainty is an unavoidable part of life. We have little control over many aspects of our lives, and while we can influence many of them, we cannot influence everything that happens to us. Life can change quickly and unexpectedly, as the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated. Things may be fine one day and then you become ill, lose your job, or find yourself struggling to put food on the table or provide for your family.
To deal with all of this uncertainty, many of us turn to worry as a tool for forecasting the future and avoiding unpleasant surprises. Worrying can make it appear as if you have some control over uncontrollable circumstances. You may believe that it will help you solve your problems or prepare you for the worst-case scenario. Maybe you’ll find a solution and be able to control the outcome if you just agonize over a problem long enough, think through every possibility, or read every opinion online. Unfortunately, none of this is effective. Chronic worrying does not give you more control over uncontrollable events; instead, it saps your energy and keeps you awake at night. But there are healthier ways to deal with uncertainty, and it all starts with changing your mindset.
The following pointers can assist you:
- Concentrate on controlling what you have control over.
- Face your need for certainty.
- Learn to tolerate, if not embrace, life’s inevitable uncertainty.
- Reduce your stress and anxiety.
Tip 1: Take Action Of The Controllables
Life can be uncertain, and many things are beyond your control. Instead of worrying about the uncontrollable, try to refocus your mind on taking action over the aspects that are within your control.
For example, if you’ve lost your job or income during this difficult time, you can still choose how much time and effort you put into looking for work online, sending out resumes, or networking with your contacts. Similarly, if you’re concerned about your health or a recent diagnosis, you can still take action by reducing your stress, reaching out for support from loved ones, and managing your symptoms.
By concentrating on the aspects of a problem that you can control, you will shift from ineffective worrying and ruminating to active problem-solving. Of course, every situation is unique, and you may discover that in some cases, all you have control over is your attitude and emotional response.
Manage the feeling of being Overwhelmed
When you are powerless over your circumstances, it is easy to become overwhelmed by fear and negative emotions. You may believe that suppressing your emotions, putting on a brave face, or forcing yourself to be positive will result in the best outcome. However, denying or suppressing your emotions will only increase your stress and anxiety, making you more prone to depression or burnout.
When there is nothing else you can do, you can still actively confront your emotions—even the most negative and fearful ones. Allowing yourself to feel uncertainty in this way can help you reduce stress, better accept your circumstances, and find peace as you face challenges.
Tip 2: Question Your Need For Certainty
While uncertainty and change are unavoidable aspects of life, we frequently engage in behaviors to alleviate the discomfort they can cause. You may, in addition to worrying about every possible scenario,:
Seek reassurance from others excessively
You repeatedly ask friends or loved ones if you’re making the right decision, conduct endless online research, or seek expert advice in an attempt to eliminate uncertainty from your life.
People must be micromanaged
You are unwilling to delegate tasks to others, whether at work or at home. You may even try to compel others to change in order to make their behavior more predictable for you.
You hope to avoid the uncertainty that inevitably follows by not making decisions. In an attempt to prevent bad things from happening, you’ll find ways to delay or postpone acting—or even avoid certain situations entirely.
Check everything several times
You repeatedly call or text your family, friends, or children to ensure their safety. You double-check emails, texts, and forms before sending them, and you double-check lists to ensure you haven’t missed anything that could affect the predictability of the future.
How to confront these behaviours
By asking yourself the following questions, you can challenge the behaviours you’ve developed to alleviate the discomfort of uncertainty:
1 – What are the benefits of having certainty? What are some of the drawbacks?
Life is full of unexpected events and surprises, and that isn’t always a bad thing. For every unwelcome surprise, such as a car accident or a serious medical diagnosis, there are unexpected, good things, such as a dream job offer, a pay raise, or a phone call from an old friend. Unexpected opportunities often arise and having to face uncertainty in life can help you learn to adapt, overcome challenges, and increase your resiliency. It has the potential to help you grow as a person.
2 – How much of life can you be certain of?
Is there anyone who has a job for life, a guarantee of good health, or absolute certainty about what will happen tomorrow? Worrying, micromanaging, and procrastinating give the impression that you have some control over a situation, but what do they actually change? The truth is that no matter how well you plan and prepare for every possible outcome, life will always surprise you. All that striving for certainty does is increase worry and anxiety.
Do you expect bad things to happen simply because the outcome is unknown? How likely is it that they will? When faced with uncertainty, it’s easy to overestimate the likelihood of something bad occurring—and underestimate your ability to cope if it does. But, given that the likelihood of something bad happening is low, even in these perilous times, is it possible to accept that small risk and focus on the more likely outcomes? Inquire with your friends and family about how they handle uncertainty in specific situations.
3 – Would you be able to do the same?
You can start to let go of negative behaviors, reduce stress and worry, and free up time and energy for more practical purposes by challenging your need for certainty.
Tip 3: Learn To Live With Uncertainty
No matter how hard you try to eliminate doubt and volatility from your life, the truth is that you already deal with a lot of uncertainty on a daily basis. Every time you cross the street, get behind the wheel of a car, or eat takeout or restaurant food, you accept a certain level of risk. You’re hoping that the traffic will stop, that you won’t get into an accident, and that everything you eat is safe.
Because the chances of something bad happening are low in these circumstances, you accept the risk and move on without requiring certainty. If you’re religious, you probably accept some uncertainty and doubt as part of your faith.
When irrational fears and worries take hold, it can be difficult to weigh the likelihood of something bad happening logically and accurately. The steps below can help you become more tolerant and accepting of uncertainty.
Determine your sources of uncertainty –
A lot of uncertainty is self-generated, such as excessive worrying or a pessimistic outlook. However, external sources of uncertainty can create some uncertainty, especially at times like this. Reading media stories about worst-case scenarios, spending time on social media amid rumours and half-truths, or simply communicating with anxious friends can all exacerbate your own fears and uncertainties. That’s why, when bad news breaks, so many people start panic-buying—they see others doing it, and it feeds their own fears. You can avoid or reduce your exposure to your triggers by recognising them.
Recognise when you have a desire for certainty –
Take note when you begin to feel anxious and fearful about a situation, start to worry about what-ifs, or believe that a situation is far worse than it is. Look for physical signs that you are anxious. You may experience tension in your neck or shoulders, shortness of breath, the onset of a headache, or a feeling of being empty in your stomach. Take a moment to recognise that you need reassurance or a guarantee.
Allow yourself to feel the fear –
Instead of futilely attempting to exert control over the uncontrollable, allow yourself to feel the discomfort of uncertainty. Fear and uncertainty, like all emotions, will pass if you allow yourself to feel them. Concentrate on the present moment and your breathing, and simply feel and observe the uncertainty you’re feeling. To stay in the present moment, take some slow, deep breaths or try a meditation.
Let go –
Respond to the what-ifs in your head by acknowledging that you are not a fortune teller and cannot predict what will happen. You can only let go and accept uncertainty as a part of life.
Change your focus –
Focus on resolvable concerns, take action on those aspects of a problem over which you have control, or simply return to what you were doing. When your thoughts return to worrying or feelings of uncertainty, bring them back to the present moment and your own breathing.
Tip 4: Concentrate On The Present
Uncertainty is frequently centred on concerns about the future and all the bad things that could happen. It can make you feel hopeless and depressed about the days ahead, exaggerate the scope of your problems, and even paralyse you from taking action to solve them.
Focusing on the present is one of the most effective ways to avoid worrying about the future. Instead of attempting to predict what might happen, focus on what is happening right now. By remaining fully present, you can interrupt the negative assumptions and catastrophic predictions that are running through your mind.
Mindfulness teaches you how to intentionally focus your attention on the present moment. With regular practise, mindfulness can help you shift your focus from worrying about the future to a greater appreciation for the present moment, as well as calm your mind, relieve stress, and improve your overall mood.
You can begin a mindfulness practise by listening to an audio meditation or incorporating it into an exercise programme like walking. Using mindfulness to stay in the present moment can be difficult. You may find that your mind keeps returning to your future fears and worries at first, but persevere. Every time you return your attention to the present, you are building a new mental habit that can help you break free from uncertainty.
Tip 5: Deal With Stress And Anxiety
Taking steps to reduce your overall stress and anxiety levels can help you break the negative thought cycle, find inner calm, and cope better with the uncertainty in your life.
Get your feet moving
Exercise is a natural and effective stress and anxiety reliever. Try incorporating mindfulness and focusing on how your body feels as you move. Consider the sensation of your feet hitting the ground as you walk, run, or dance, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feel of the sun or wind on your skin.
Make time for rest and relaxation
Choose a relaxation technique, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises, and try to practise it on a daily basis.
Get enough sleep
Excessive worry and uncertainty can cause sleep disruption, just as a lack of quality sleep can exacerbate anxiety and stress. Improving your daytime habits and setting aside time to relax and unwind before bedtime can help you sleep better at night.
Maintain a healthy diet
Eating nutritious foods can help you maintain your energy levels and avoid mood swings. Avoid sugary and processed foods, and try to incorporate more omega-3 fats—from salmon, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds—to improve your mood.
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