Dealing with Uncertainty

Dealing with Uncertainty

Almost two years ago, not many people would have predicted that we would still be in the midst of a pandemic. We have all been coping with extremely uncertain times and many people have lost control over important things in their life such as childcare, job security, finances and certainty about education and healthcare. The reality is that life is filled with uncertainty, and this pandemic has highlighted that worldwide.

Study of human behavior shows that humans crave security. People have an innate desire to feel safe and have a reasonable sense of predictability when it comes to the things that are important to them. Fear and uncertainty have been shown to lead to stress, anxiety, and helplessness. If as 2022 begins, you feel overwhelmed by uncertainty and worry, it is important to know that you are not alone; many people are feeling the same way. It’s also helpful to understand that there are tools you can use to better deal with uncertainty.

Control what you can

Focus on controlling the things that you can. For some people, it is helpful to be reminded of the Serenity Prayer, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage the change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” We cannot immediately change the state of the worldwide pandemic, but we can make individual choices that keep ourselves and others safe. Remember, even when you feel helpless, you often have control over your attitude and behavioral response.

We often develop worry behaviors to cope with the discomfort of uncertainty. These can look like excessive reassurance seeking, micromanaging others or situations, procrastinating, and ruminating. Although these behaviors can provide relief in the short term, they do nothing to reduce anxiety in the long term. The better strategy for dealing with anxious thoughts about uncertainty is to challenge them and modify them to be more balanced.  In CBT, this is called cognitive restructuring.

Thoughts and emotions can feel uncomfortable, but they cannot hurt you. One of the best ways to cope with uncertainty is developing a mindset of accepting rather than avoiding the discomfort that comings along with it. Working with a tool called mindfulness can help you intentionally bring awareness to the present moment, without resistance or trying to change it. Focus on the present moment and allow yourself to feel and observe the uncertainty you are feeling. With practice,  this will become more natural and your ability to tolerate any negative emotion will improve.

There is no doubt that we are experiencing high levels of uncertainty for prolonged periods of time. If this is impacting your mood and mental health, know that you are not alone. Practicing uncertainty coping strategies, such as the ones outlined in this article, can help you feel better equipped at dealing with the unknown and decrease your risk of anxiety and depression.

For more information about coping with uncertainty, check out this post written last year on how to help your teen.