The world is uncertain and even the most secure and level-headed person can feel frustrated, worried or anxious. In this article I discuss psychological uncertainty, how it affects us, why we must manage it effectively and give “how-tos” with real like examples of how we can handle uncertainty during the pandemic (and other times in our lives).
What is uncertainty?
Uncertainty can occur in specific circumstances, like when we are waiting for a call to see if we got the job. And it can also revolve around larger questions in life like, “who am I?”
With COVID uncertainty can come in many forms. Questions like:
When will this be over?
What will “normal” be like when this is over?
Am I going to be able to find a job and provide for my family?
How am I going to work and help my child with distance learning?
How Uncertainty Affects Us
When we are faced with uncertainty our views (of ourselves and the world) are challenged. Uncertainty may cause hypervigilance, avoidance, negative or all-or-nothing thinking.
Our attitude towards, and ability to manage uncertainty can directly affect our level of and susceptibility to depression and anxiety.
Uncertainty can hinder our ability to make decisions, hinder our ability to feel confident and it can even cause us to put our life on hold and get stuck. Or worse, uncertainty can have us looking to others for direction and then start living our life dependent on their suggestions.
How to Handle Uncertainty
Managing uncertainty effectively will reduce anxiety and stress, which will in turn help us get better sleep and have an overall higher quality of life. Below are some tips and suggestions for managing uncertainty, not only during the pandemic, but all throughout your life.
1. Ground Yourself
If you’re feeling anxious or uneasy make an effort to focus on your breath. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold for a couple seconds, exhale through your mouth 2x longer than the inhale and invite calmness into your body. Woosa.
2. Take Emotional Inventory
Feelings commonly associated with uncertainty are: fear, shock, discomfort, denial and anger. Take an inventory. Be objective and remember that feelings are not good or bad. Once you acknowledge your feelings they likely won’t be as strong anymore.
3. Acknowledge That Uncertainty Sucks
Sometimes just stating the obvious can help us feel more grounded. Uncertainty sucks. That’s that.
4. Think About Uncertainty Differently
The level of discomfort around uncertainty depends on how we view and manage uncertainty. Whether you accept uncertainty or not, it’s always going to be there. You don’t need to be super gung-ho about it, but focus on not loathing or hating it.
RELATED ARTICLE: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life
5. Embrace the Uncertainty
I’m not suggesting you yell “YOLO” and run naked through your neighborhood or spend your entire life savings on something frivolous. But I am suggesting that you embrace the uncertainty and that what’s to come may be better than you could’ve ever imagined.
6. Focus on What You Can Control
When we try to control things we can’t control we subject ourselves to depression, anxiety and suffering. Things you can control are how much you read, what you consume (negative news, food, etc.), how long you spend watching news, doomscrolling, how you manage your emotions, and your thoughts… among other things.
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7. Limit Your Thinking
Think about uncertainty in structured time slots. Maybe 30 minutes, 2x a day. Sit down and focus solely on the situation, what you can and can’t control. When time is up focus on something else.
8. Give Yourself Permission to Relax
It may feel like worrying or hyperfocusing gives us some control, but really it’s just making us suffer twice. Remind yourself that worrying doesn’t change anything, it causes mental discomfort.
9. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude can change our perspective and help us break free from negative thought loops. When practicing gratitude focus on the things you are grateful for in your life —not how they compare to others and their life. It can be as simple as being grateful for a TV show that helps you relax.
10. Flip “What if” Thinking
What if thinking can be negative and create suffering. Make the swap from negative “what if” thinking (what if it doesn’t work out) to positive (what if it does work out).
11. Reflect on A Time When You’ve Managed Uncertainty Well
A lack of confidence compounds negative feelings associated with uncertainty. We may think we can’t handle a situation and then the situation becomes scary and intimidating. To build confidence think of a time when you’ve handled an uncertain situation effectively.
12. Go for a Walk or Exercise
Walking and exercise aren’t a cure all but they sure do help. They will help you to focus on something else, rather than uncertainty, as you exert physical instead of mental energy.
13. Start a New Hobby or Pick up an Old One
Flow is when we are fully immersed and focused on something we enjoy. When we focus on trying something new or when we practice a hobby that we love we can connect to flow instead of focusing on uncertainty.
14. Acknowledge That This Isn’t Forever
Just like other feelings, feelings regarding uncertainty won’t last forever. Feelings are fleeting and they come and go. Remember, this too shall pass.
15. Be Conscious of How Media Weaponizes Uncertainty
Words like staggering and scathing and lashing and the like. Seriously, so dramatic. I’d tell you to make it a fun drinking game and take a shot every time a news story was dramatic, but the likelihood you’d die of alcohol poisoning within an hour is just too damn high.
16. Take Prediction Thinking With a Grain of Salt
Prediction thinking isn’t inherently bad or negative —but the media makes it negative to an extreme. We need to limit the attention we give to it. Even the most educated prediction is likely going to be wrong, and most of the predictions we are hearing are not even remotely close to being educated.
RELATED ARTICLE: 9 Ways to Stay Socially Connected While Physically Distant
17. Build Your Tolerance to Discomfort
Next time you’re cooking use a different burner and consciously focus on how it makes you feel. The idea here is that you are exposing yourself to discomfort in a controlled, comfortable environment. With this small exposure you build your mind muscles which will help you work through discomfort in other areas.
You can also do this by bushing your teeth with the opposite hand.
18. Practice Self-Compassion
Things are crazy right now, even the most level headed, emotionality intelligent individual may be feeling stressed out and worried. Give yourself reassurance and be kind to yourself. This shit is tough!
19. Reach Out to Others and Connect
Make sure to connect on things that are going well or connect on the fact that things are uncertain and scary, but that we are in it together and will overcome. Try not to form a bond over negative thinking. More about social connection here.