Few things in life are defined, and nothing is ever truly set in stone. It can feel overwhelming to realize that so many things seem outside of your control. How do you manage emotions and confusion that stem from this simple fact of life?
For many, this uncertainty is a massive source of anxiety. But it does not have to be that way! Uncertainty isn’t just the way things are – it can also be a gift. Even if you struggle to view it in a positive light, you can learn to be more appreciative of the unexpected. Here’s how experts reveal ten ways to deal with uncertainty.
1. Find Comfort In Routine
Uncertainty tends to stem from everything feeling like it’s spun out of our control. The best way to counteract this is via giving yourself some small things to use as anchor points in times of uncertainty, says wellness company CEO, writer, and speaker Nataly Kogan. Think about the things that achieve the following:
- Gives you peace when you’re feeling overwhelmed
- Helps center and steady yourself
- Comfort and ground you in moments of distress
- Are straightforward and easy to do
- Encourage your ability to engage in positive thinking
- You can count on to be a huge help every time
- Nourish you when you’re feeling negative or uncertain
Try writing down one or two of these activities, and use these activities as daily anchors to hold yourself steady in difficult times. These activities may be precisely what you need to tide through uncertain and worrying times.
2. Accept That You Can’t Control It All
It’s only natural for the universe to throw in fastballs when you least expect it. Some of us, however, struggle with this fact – especially if we have deep-rooted assumptions and beliefs about how the world should work. Do your best to:
- Keep an open and realistic mind
- Understand that certainty is acceptable and tolerable
- Things can and will change, and that is alright
- Remember that you’re only human, and so there is only so much you can do
- Be kind to yourself
- Give yourself the permission to be uncertain
- Be willing (and open) to change and adapt as necessary
In times of uncertainty, the last thing we ought to be is rigid and unchanging – otherwise, we will find ourselves struggling a lot more with our inability to control everything, says author and licensed therapist Tom Corboy. To only have so much control, after all, is simply part of the human experience.
3. Perform Mindfulness
With just how bad things seem to be piling one on top of another, being positive can come across as a difficult task. This can be further worsened if you find yourself unemployed and faced with a life of uncertainty.
Thankfully, research indicates that mindfulness can be an incredibly helpful coping mechanism, according to psychologist Gertrude Lyons, Ed.D. You can try taking advantage of it by:
- Paying attention to your five senses
- Focusing on three different things you can feel or hear right now
- Ground yourself in the present moment
- Acknowledge your wandering thoughts, but let them pass through.
It’s essential to pay attention to when you start worrying so that you can interrupt those thoughts with mindfulness techniques. That way, you can keep your own stress and anxiety in check – which is, at the very least, the one thing you have control over in times of uncertainty.
4. Practice Gratitude
Something that’s worth remembering in these difficult times is that our brains tend to gravitate towards the negative instead of the positive. As a result, we’re also likely to become fearful about the future as well, says Kogan. It’s crucial, then, to counteract this negativity by:
- Focusing on what you’re grateful for, even with this general uncertainty
- Be specific about what you’re thankful about
- Take the time to truly appreciate these things, especially when you’re in a negativity spiral
You may find yourself questioning its effectiveness, but research tells us that this can actually help with stress and depression – which is just what we need in times of uncertainty.
5. Be Kind
The last thing many of us can think of doing in such trying times is to reach out and be kind to others around us. Research, however, proves that such acts of kindness are what we need. According to Kogan, in the act of performing intentional acts of kindness, we stop ruminating on our own anxieties and connect to others to support and help them – and in turn, we too get uplifted.
You can start by:
- Stopping to chat with a colleague
- Smiling and thanking those who help you.
- Texting a dear friend to check in on them
- Initiating contact with a loved one to stay in touch
- Helping someone with their groceries
- Being intentional in your acts of kindness
The focus is to step out of our own mind so that we can reach out to those around us. This encourages our brains to release oxytocin – a neurotransmitter that not only boosts our mood but also reinforces feelings of support during times of struggle.
6. Develop A Thick Skin
Empathy and sensitivity is a gift, but it’s not one without consequence. In times of uncertainty, it can become a constant worry and anxiety and hinder our positive thinking abilities. Thankfully, states Lyons, research-based therapy has been proven to help with this sort of excessive worrying. Some of the tips and tricks found in such treatments include:
- Acknowledging the smaller, everyday uncertainties, you navigate without thinking
- Realize that you gloss over minor difficulties in everything you do, and have come out of it all right
- Build your tolerance towards your fears and anxieties
- Seek professional help if necessary
7. Be Confident About Your Ability To Cope
We ought to give ourselves more credit – many of us are capable of handling great difficulties, even if we think otherwise.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by circumstances, but a little mental preparation and thinking will show that – while uncomfortable and awkward – we are much more resilient than we have led ourselves to believe. This is known as defensive pessimism – something Julie K. Norem, author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, knows very much about.
To do some much-needed mental preparation, try:
- Consider the worst – then plan on how you can handle it.
- Remember that that you are capable of dealing with whatever difficulties life may throw your way.
- Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst
- Ground yourself in realistic outcomes and scenarios
- Remind yourself of all that is within your control and reach
8. Trust Your Gut
Our intuitions are much more powerful than we would think. Honed by millennia of evolution and full of information we’ve collected over the course of our entire lives, it is in our best interest to listen to our gut instinct for a moment. Doing so and embracing the power it gives us can help us to:
- Come up with solutions
- Be sure and confident in our decisions
- Accurately pinpoint and identify problems and root causes
In order to take advantage of our gut instincts, however, it’s also essential that we:
- Remember these instincts can’t be forced
- Practice using our intuition on a regular basis
- Filter out our feelings, so they do not cloud our intuition
- Learn to differentiate between assumptions, emotions, and instincts
- Build a track record with our instincts for the smaller things first
- Recognize what our own filters are first
Our gut instinct can be easily overpowered by overthinking, or by our own emotions and assumptions. It’s best to learn how to listen to our gut instincts within being influenced by our own filters first, so we can focus on what message we’re genuinely given. Then only can we truly utilize our gut instincts to our benefit.
9. Be Prepared Without Being Paranoid
Making contingency plans and prepping for harmful situations is excellent. Bear in mind, though– there is a fine line between being prepared and being paranoid. Paranoia often results in us trying to prepare for every single possible outcome – both realistic and realistic.
To make sure you’re prepared and not just paranoid, here are a few things to look out for:
- You’re also unafraid to admit that you could be wrong.
- You hope for the best, even as you plan for the possibility of failure.
- Perhaps you make detailed, rational, and clear contingency plans in full before executing them.
- You don’t ask, “What if?”
- You understand you may make mistakes.
- You’re willing to learn from those lessons and move on
- You focus on what actions you can take to stay cool and calm
- You understand that there are too many possibilities for you to account for realistically
Remember – there’s no room for “What If” statements in a good contingency plan. All of your energy should focus on executing said contingency plans and on things that are within your control, should problems come to pass.
10. Focus On The Things You Can Control
Uncertainty often manifests in us being obsessed over the sources of worries and anxieties that we have no control over. For example, we may find ourselves:
- Constantly checking the news
- Stockpiling supplies like canned foods or toilet paper
- Looking to Google for answers over every single little thing
This is all behavior that stems from fear and anxiety, says psychologist Rebecca Sinclair, Ph.D. In a bid to fight back against uncertainty and cling on to control, we find ourselves instead indulging in activities that only serve to heighten our sense of anxiety further.
To combat this, you can try to instead:
- Reduce the amount of minutes you spend on social media platforms
- Be reasonable and logical about your circumstances and how it may be affected.
- Step back from your electronic device and focus on something tangible and physical
- Focus on your daily routines and on things that bring you comfort
- Reach out and support your friends and family
- Pay attention to your work.
- Work on things that are within your easy control and reach
- Relinquish control – imagined or otherwise – over things and circumstances that are beyond your abilities
It’s okay to feel uncertain about your life and the world. That is perfectly normal and, or course, nothing to be ashamed of. Understanding these thoughts is the key to learning to manage them. There’s beauty in uncertainty, after all!