One of the most poignant lessons of 2020 is that we live in an uncertain world. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the world as we know it can turn upside down. If we want to stay calm, focused, and in control, we need to learn the best ways to cope with uncertainty.
At times, everyone deals with not knowing what the future will bring. It could be a universal event, such as a pandemic, or a personal one, like the death of a loved one or an offer of a new job in a distant city.
Uncertainty leads to a range of emotions; anxiety, fear, disorientation, confusion, excitement, or dread. Often, it’s a combination of many of these feelings. Every one of us will go through periods when we feel that our life is unpredictable. The only sure thing is things will continually change. So it makes good sense for us to learn how to cope when our world feels precarious.
Why is uncertainty so difficult for us to cope with?
Human beings have a strong need for control and predictability. Uncertainty triggers our stress response. From an evolutionary perspective, the human brain is wired to anticipate danger, prepare for it, and fight against it.
When we’re in ambiguous situations where we don’t have enough information and don’t know what could come next, our reptilian brain takes over. It triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response. However, that response may not be the best approach to help us cope with times of change.
The ability to weather times of uncertainty is the hallmark of a healthy, resilient mind. Luckily, that’s a trait that can be learned and fostered.
Learn to cope with uncertainty with these helpful tips.
- Increase your self-compassion. Emotions creep up on us unannounced. It is how we cope with those emotions that make a difference. Don’t feel guilty thinking you should be able to handle things better. When you try to push away your feelings and not deal with them, they intensify. Instead, try journaling. Writing down our emotions helps us to deal with them better. Find a trusted, non-judgmental friend or family member with whom you feel safe expressing yourself. You will feel better when you realize you are not the only one who’s ever felt the way you do, and you will be reminded that you have support from a loved one.
- Embrace Acceptance Be okay with not knowing. When you try to control uncontrollable outcomes, you end up feeling powerless. Focus on what you can control. The truth is, very little in life is certain. Even when we try to plan, life can surprise us. In the end, all we really can control is our mindset and reactions to what happens. Adopt the Serenity Prayer—”God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Stay in the present. Focus on the here and now. The past can be filled with regret. The present is unknown, and we often imagine the worst. In either case, when we focus on the past or future, we miss what is happening in the here and now. Stay engaged in who you are with, what you are doing, and what surrounds you. Enjoy your moments, despite not knowing what the future will bring. Acknowledge gratitude for the things in your life that are going well. If this is challenging for you, try mindfulness training, meditation audios, yoga, or deep breathing. There are classes and apps galore to choose from. Not only will this help you get better about staying present, but these practices have also been shown to be beneficial for stress management.
- Learn from the past. This is probably not the first time you are dealing with uncertainty. Reflect on how you coped in the past. What strengths did you call on to help you? How can they help you now? What lessons did you learn that can assist you in managing now? Remind yourself that you have survived many other times of uncertainty in your life, and you will get through this time as well.
- Work on a Plan B. Accepting uncertainty doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan for some of life’s unpredictable events. Although it may seem like outcomes are out of your power, you can create a plan for the worst-case scenario. Knowing what steps to take if the worst should happen will give you a sense of control. For instance, having savings put aside in case of unexpected expenses is always wise. Knowing how you will support yourself if your entrepreneurial endeavor doesn’t pan out will give you the courage to risk the leap to being your own boss. If you live in an area at risk for hurricanes or earthquakes, having a family evacuation plan and a preparedness kit handy will ease the “what if” worries.
- Don’t over consume information. When faced with difficult times, getting enough information to stay informed is essential. However, constantly reading the news, checking WebMD, or googling information related to your problem leads to obsession. You’ll end up frustrated, frightened, and confused, rather than informed and relieved.
- Don’t let your healthy habits slip. No matter what is happening around you, how you take care of yourself is within your control. Sticking to your workout plan, eating well, and getting the sleep you need will all help to give life a sense of normalcy. Exercise is a natural mood lifter and anti-anxiety treatment. Occupying your brain with work, chores, entertainment, or other activities unrelated to the source of your uncertainty may be the best way to shrink it down to a manageable size.
The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche, said, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” How true! Often when individuals talk about their most significant challenges, they will state they are stronger and better people because of it.
So the next time you find yourself swimming in a sea of uncertainty, follow the tips above. Before you know it, you will be back on solid ground. That is until the next time uncertainty rears its ugly head. But now you’ll be prepared with the best ways to cope with uncertainty.