How to deal with uncertainty
Updated: May 13, 2020
Coping with uncertain times
There will be various points throughout your life where you experience uncertainty or even have no idea what to expect in the future. Being uncertain about future outcomes can leave you feeling anxious, on edge and fearful about what might happen. Furthermore, these future worries can lead to you developing unhelpful behaviours that can negatively impact your ability to function. These behaviours can include seeking excessive reassurance from other people, no motivation to engage in activities and avoidance of people, places and situations. But the great thing is there are plenty of strategies you can use to help reduce the level of fear you have and even change your mindset to looking forward to what happens in the future.
Step 1: Curiosity & Acknowledgment
- It’s important to realise that any feelings you get (positive or negative) about the future are normal and you can feel any way you want when you think about the future. However, the key thing to remember is sometimes emotions or feelings can distort the reality of something and lead you to believe something is the absolute truth when your belief is actually an opinion based on how you feel, not necessarily the truth. So, the first stage to becoming more tolerable with uncertainty is to be simply curious about how your current default response to uncertainty is impacting your beliefs, feelings and behaviours. Acknowledge if your default response is helpful? Are you able to still feel positive despite the uncertainty? Or do the feelings of uncertainty overwhelm you and prevent you from moving forward and feeling positive?
Write down how you feel about future situations and experiences:
- What beliefs do I automatically have when thinking about the future?
- What types of feelings and emotions do I experience?
- How do I typically behave?
- Is my response helpful/positive or unhelpful/negative?
- How do I know if my response is helpful/positive or unhelpful/negative?
Step 2: Acceptance
You might not realise it, but your brain is designed to make you overthink and worry about things because it's focus is to protect you from potential threats. Your brain tends to calm down when it has more knowledge about something or knows what to expect. However, it can be difficult to have knowledge about something that hasn’t happened yet! Therefore, it’s helpful to accept thing’s that you can’t fully control such as future outcomes. For some people it can be difficult learning to accept and let go of things they can’t control, so it can be beneficial to reflect and realise you already accept uncertainty in many aspects of your life. Every time you drive you can’t predict what you will encounter on the roads, you can’t completely predict the weather, you can’t be sure about who you will bump into throughout the day…you can’t even be sure if something positive will happen to you. If you are able to realise you are already able to accept forms of uncertainty, it might just help put things into perspective and lead you to realise that the future might not be as daunting as you originally thought.
List types of uncertainty you already accept in your life. The type of uncertainty can be big or small:
Additional acceptance exercises:
- Normalize your feelings: ‘This feeling shows you’re a normal human being who is just concerned about how something might impact you. We are designed to feel this way, but we also have the ability to contain our feelings and not let them run our lives’
- Learn about the potential negative consequences of allowing the negative beliefs and feelings to overwhelm you and your ability to function.
- Instead of focusing on what might change, consider what aspects of your life will stay the same or even get better in the future?
- Challenge your beliefs: What evidence and knowledge 100% proves your fears are going to happen?
- Test your hypothesis: Will your fear of something terrible happening really occur? Think through the best, worst and most realistic outcome. It’s very easy to only consider the potential negative outcome.
- Reflect on your previous experiences in your life where you felt anxious or fearful about not knowing what might happen…did you get through those experiences? Were your predictions 100% accurate? 9 times out of 10 you got through those moments of uncertainty and proved yourself wrong that you could adjust and positively adapt to anything life throws at you. Consider and list previous moments in your life where you got through moments of uncertainty:
Your current feelings of uncertainty are just like your previous feelings of uncertainty. You got through those previous feelings, you will get through your current feelings and you will get through future feelings of uncertainty.
Step 3: Love and self-compassion
You might not be able to control what happens around you or what happens in the future, but you can control how you treat yourself. To help build up your tolerance about uncertainty, it is recommended you find strategies that reassure you and make you feel psychologically safe.
- Remind yourself of your personal strengths. Could you use any of those strengths to help deal with your feelings of uncertainty?
- Choose/create a positive affirmation to say to yourself at the start and end of the day.
- Choose to do an activity you love doing at the start of the day. Tell yourself the first objective of the day is to ensure you are happy.
- Appreciate the positive things and support you provide to the people around you.
- End the day on a positive by asking yourself ‘what went well today?’
- Appreciate the positive things you still have despite feeling uncertain.
List 5 things, people or activities you still have and can do despite the uncertainty of the future:
Step 4: Motivated to learn, adapt and grow
The final step to learning to tolerate feelings of uncertainty is redirecting your attention onto what matters! What gives you a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction? What are your personal goals? It might be that current circumstances won’t allow you to achieve a particular goal…so could you put that goal on pause and choose an alternative goal to pursue? Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn but just never got around to it or had the time to do? Maybe now is the time to turn that positive intention into an action!
Make that positive leap of faith and change your perspective on the future! What positive things could you get out of the future? How could future situations help you grow and develop as a person?