Coping With Uncertainty

October 20, 2022

This article was provided by our Graduate Intern Lindsey Romero 

While life is normally full of unpredictable twists and turns, we undoubtedly have been dealing with heightened levels of instability for the past couple of years. As COVID-19 preventative measures dwindle across the country, we are entering a new era of the pandemic; one in which some people believe it’s completely over and others rather continue practicing safety measures, choosing not to let their guard down now. Some of us fall somewhere in the middle, relaxing restrictions for ourselves but carrying a mask just in case. In addition, as the Russia-Ukraine War fuels insecurity around the world, it is easy to feel unsure about the future. Common questions that arise are: is the pandemic truly over? What if another variant comes along? Will gas prices ever get back down? Will the U.S. go to war too? Will life ever feel normal again?  

Uncertainty occurs when you have little information about an event or occurrence, which makes it difficult to plan or visualize future outcomes. Since many people prefer to have a plan in response to future possible outcomes, uncertainty can create uncomfortable feelings of distress and anxiety. In addition, having limited knowledge and no plan can also make people feel out of control, leading to elevated stress. While everybody responds to uncertainty differently based on individual, cultural, or community differences, unmanaged stress from uncertainty can lead to anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep, panic attacks, or engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as self-soothing through alcohol or other substance misuse. If you find yourself struggling to mange feelings of uncertainty, please know that you are not alone, and there are changes you can implement to better cope with uncertainty. 

Implement Structure.

When major aspects of your life feel uncertain and you are unable to plan for them, try incorporating structure and routine into your life wherever possible. Whether that be creating a day-to-day or week-to-week routine, try creating small moments of predictability to help keep you from feeling like your entire life is unpredictable.  

Practice Gratitude.

While it can be easy to fixate on the negative or uncertain aspects of life, practicing gratitude can be a powerful antidote to keep you from living in that state of mind. One easy way to practice gratitude is to notice what you are thankful for as you go about your day. For example, on your drive to work, you can practice appreciating the beautiful weather, your functioning car, or your steady employment. Another way to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal.

Whether it be first thing in the morning or before going to bed at night, writing down three things you are grateful for everyday can help create a habit of intentionally practicing gratitude. You can simply list three things you are grateful for or go into depth as to why you feel gratitude for those identified things; either way, writing down a gratitude list has proven benefits for improving mood. 

Connect with Others.

Sometimes we experience uncertainty about stressors that are unique to our own lives. Presently, we are collectively experiencing uncertainty on a national and global scale. Therefore, consider talking to friends or family about your unease regarding uncertainty. It sometimes helps to remind yourself that you are not alone in your struggles.  

Religion or Faith.

If you identify as a religious person, consider viewing your circumstances from a perspective in line with your faith. Do you believe in a higher power who is guiding your life? Do you believe everything happens for a reason? It might be helpful to grapple with these questions to better understand your circumstances from a religious perspective. If these questions feel hard, consider leaning on your religious community to discuss these questions together.  

Practice Mindfulness.

During times of uncertainty, it can be easy to feel consumed by your worries and disconnected from the present moment. In order to ground yourself in the present, consider practicing mindfulness techniques that allow you to remain attentive to the current moment. For example, practice the Five Senses technique in which you identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste in your present moment. Another technique you can try is a Body Scan Meditation where you lie on your back with your arms and legs extended and your palms facing up. In this meditation, you slowly focus on each part of your body from head to toe.

While you do this, focus on any thoughts, emotions, or sensations that arise while paying attention to each body part. In addition, try mindfully eating throughout the day, in which you eat your meal silently and try to focus on the sensations that come with eating, such as taste, temperature, and emotions. To take it a step further, consider incorporating gratitude into this mindfulness practice. As you eat your meal, you can think about and appreciate whoever prepared the meal (including yourself), the people who grew your ingredients, and the grocery store workers who made it possible to buy your ingredients. Practicing appreciation for your ability to feed yourself can also help you practice gratitude.  

Visualize and Accept Worries.

Sometimes, trying to eliminate or reduce worries can feel too difficult. In these instances, consider trying to simply notice your worries, not engage with them, and rather accept them as something that will come up for you. You can visualize your thoughts as leaves falling from a tree, and instead of dealing with the thoughts, you can choose to place those leaves on a stream and watch them float away.  

Limit Social Media Consumption.

While social media can be a great way to connect with friends and stay informed about current events, the 24/7 news cycle on most social media platforms makes it difficult to control your exposure to stressful world news. At some point, it no longer serves you to be connected to the news and, in fact, might demotivate you from taking any meaningful action to help. Consider limiting your social media usage during certain hours or to a limited number of hours every day. If you need help in limiting your social media usage, consider using settings in certain apps that remind you of how long you’ve been using the app or apps that restrict your usage of certain platforms all together. 

When dealing with uncertainty, life can feel difficult, but there are ways to help alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with not knowing. As you implement the recommended strategies for managing uncertainty, it is important to also practice patience and self-compassion with yourself, as you may have to figure out which strategies work best for you through trial and error. Keep in mind that your struggle with uncertainty is a challenge that many people are facing today, and there are steps you can take to make the uncertainty more manageable.  

Other Helpful Resources:

Seven Ways to Cope with Uncertainty
Looking After Yourself – Anxiety
9 Tips for Dealing With Uncertainty & Anxiety Right Now

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