Living with Uncertainty
I’ve been feeling a bit weird this week; definitely anxious, more likely to cry/snap/laugh at the drop of a hat, all in all a little bit discombobulated, and I couldn’t really put my finger on ‘why’. Hormones? Maybe. But actually, when I sat and thought about it, I realised the way I’m feeling stems from an external sense that’s nothing as it ‘should be’.
No-one seems to know what is coming next, and it’s this uncertainty that’s making me feel so out of whack. With constant news about the second wave of the pandemic, rules and guidelines seemingly shifting by the day, it’s hard to NOT feel uncertain, anxious and fearful, isn’t it?
As human beings, we tend to crave security; we want to feel safe, secure and feel like we have control over our own lives and well-being. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with uncertainty across so many aspects of our lives, leaving us worrying not just about our own physical health and those we love, but also the economy and employment, our financial futures, our relationships. And all of this takes a big toll on our mental health.
In this article we’re going to look at ways just some of the ways we can respond to and deal with uncertainty.
The first thing to recognise is that uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. There is little about our lives that is constant or totally certain. As 2020 has shown us, life can change very quickly and very unpredictably. But in reality how much can we be absolutely certain about in life anyway? Does anyone really have a job for life or absolute certainty over what tomorrow will bring?
The truth is, no matter how much you try to plan and prepare for every possible outcome, life will probably still find a way of surprising you. Like the saying goes; Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
And perhaps we shouldn’t always look at change and uncertainty as a bad thing. Life can change in a heartbeat and can bring us unexpected events or surprises. But for every unpleasant surprise, there are good things that happen too; a tax rebate (wouldn’t that be nice); bumping into an old friend you haven’t seen for ages, a random act of kindness.
We all live with uncertainty every day. Every time you cross the road or order a take away you’re accepting a certain level of uncertainty. You’re trusting that the traffic will stop for you or that what you’ve had delivered has been properly prepared and is safe to eat.
Exactly how much uncertainty we can tolerate in life is different for everyone. It seems that some people thrive on taking risks and living unpredictable lives, while others find the randomness and uncertainty deeply disturbing. So if uncertainty is ever present, how do we learn to live alongside it?
Work out what you can control.
Uncertainty can leave you feeling powerless over the direction of your life; it’s emotionally draining and can lead you down a worry rabbit hole of endless “what-ifs” and worst-case scenarios about what tomorrow might bring.Whilst we have control over many things, there is no way we can control everything that happens to us, so it’s important to know the difference between what we can and cant control.
Instead of worrying about the uncontrollable, try to focus on taking action over the aspects that are within your control – and what you can control is your attitude and emotional response.
Worrying doesn’t change anything. But focusing on the aspects of a problem that you can control will help us switch from ineffective worrying into active problem-solving.Much of our lives are uncertain at the moment—and many things remain outside of our control. You can’t single handedly control the spread of a virus or economic recovery, but you’re not totally powerless either.
Acknowledge your emotions.
When you feel like circumstances are out of your control, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by negative emotions. We might respond by telling everyone “everything great”, putting on a brave face, or forcing ourselves to be positive, thinking this will change our outcomes. But denying or pushing our emotions down can lead to stress and anxiety. Its ok to acknowledge and allow yourself to experience those negative emotions.
And it’s important to remember that you’re not alone if you are feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty and worry, they are a natural response to uncertainty. But it’s possible to have some control about how we respond to those feelings.
Here are a few tips to help you live alongside uncertainty:
Identify your ‘triggers’.
In the cast of the pandemic, much of the uncertainty we feel is generated by external sources. Reading or listening to news that focus on worst-case scenarios, spending time on social media amid rumours, half-truths and conspiracies, or spending time with anxious friends can add fuel to the fire and increase your own fears and uncertainties.
When you recognise what triggers your feelings of anxiety, you can then try to avoid them as much as possible.
Move more. Exercising is an effective and natural stress-reliever. Physical activity helps bump up the production endorphins (your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters). Any aerobic activity such yoga or a brisk walk will do.
Let it go.
Acknowledge that you’re not a fortune teller; you don’t know what will happen in the future. No one does. All you can do is let go and accept the uncertainty as part of life.
One of the surest ways to avoid worrying about the future is to focus on the present. With regular practice, mindfulness can help change your preoccupation with worries about the future to an appreciation of the ‘now’. Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present can take a bit of work, and you might find that initially your focus keeps wandering back to your future fears and worries. But every time you focus your attention back on the present, you’re strengthening a new mental habit.
Make time to relax.
That sounds counter intuitive, but in times of stress and anxiety, it’s so important to practise some self-care, and one way to do this is to make sure you take time to relax. Try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Put it in your diary to make sure you set aside time each day to practise, even if it’s just 10 minutes. It’s time for you.
Eat mood boosting foods.
Eating balanced healthy meals can help prevent mood swings and maintain your energy levels. Avoid sugary and processed foods and try to more mood boosting foods like add more omega-3 fats—from salmon, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds.
Having to face uncertainty in life can also help you learn to adapt and increase your resilience; and letting go of negative behaviours will free up time and energy. This virus is likely to be around for some time so we all need to look for things we can control to help us find a way through the uncertainty ahead.