Dan Grupe, a research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Health Minds, said, “Uncertainty itself can lead to a lot of distress for humans.” This is because the brain fills in the gaps when it doesn’t know or have a reference point. The brain first looks for familiar clues to categorize any given situation as either threatening or safe. If it can’t properly figure out whether or not something is safe, it will categorize it as a threat – just to be on the safe side. This threatening feeling is uncomfortable and sometimes even scary.
Martin Seligman, founder of the field of positive psychology, said, “The human mind is automatically attracted to the worst possible case, often very inaccurately. … Catastrophizing is an evolutionarily adaptive frame of mind, but it is usually unrealistically negative.” This tendency to focus on the negative and allow anxiety about the unknown to drive can cloud anyone’s ability to think clearly. It also inhibits one’s ability to make sound decisions and be the best parent, spouse, friend, child, neighbor, human being, they can be. Gaining a higher tolerance to that tension, stress, and discomfort with the unknown will be incredibly helpful during today’s era of crisis. The problem is, this comfort with the unknown does not come naturally to most people.
If you are struggling with uncertainty, as I have been, here are some tips that will help.
11 Tips to Help in Dealing with Uncertainty
- Recognize that fear is a natural reaction with uncertainty. It’s our body’s (and brain’s) natural defense. Fear resides in the limbic section of our brain. I need to move my thoughts to the rational side. So, while I recognize that not knowing is scary, I also know that these are just irrational thoughts – not reality.
- Focusing on something positive, rather than dwelling on the negative will be very helpful. Positive thoughts quiet fear and irrational thinking. It gives your brain’s attention a chance to focus on something completely stress free. I find it helpful to actually list the many positive things that are currently happening in my life.
- List of what I know for sure and what I don’t know for sure. This is similar to number 2 above, but writing out what I know to be true and what I don’t know at all is very helpful in putting everything into perspective. Often when we are fearful, it’s because our mind is too full and assuming that everything we are thinking about is true. By gathering all the facts as well as what you don’t know helps in making informed decisions and takes away the power of not knowing.
- I’m learning that I need to embrace what I can’t control. I can’t control any external factors. I can’t control whether I will get sick, what will happen to the economy or anything else, just as I can’t control the weather. I can’t control what other people say or do. Rather than focus on what I can’t control, I need to focus on what is within my control. These include my thoughts and how I choose to respond to the various situations in life that will come up – both good and bad.
- Don’t seek perfection. Perfection is an unattainable goal. It’s okay to strive to do well but failure is a part of life. Let that go and move on. And, don’t forget to recognize your accomplishments too.
- Don’t dwell on problems. Where I focus my attention will determine my emotional state. If I occupy myself with everything that’s going wrong, what I can’t control, then of course, I’m going to feel depressed and negative. Rather, focus my attention and effort on what I can do, in spite of the uncertainty that lays ahead.
- Trust my gut. If you take an airplane view of your situation, what can you see? How have you handled difficult or uncertain situations in the past? Do you listen to your gut and trust yourself or are you easily swayed or influenced by others? Give yourself some space to process and deal with problems and come up with solutions and/or contingency plans. Practice using your intuition. You can start by using it on smaller situations. In doing so, you can then build up to trust it in bigger situations.
- Recognize the lesson and learn from your mistakes. Everything that has happened to you is a lesson and helps to move you forward. What are you learning about yourself during this pandemic? What are you resisting? What do you want to start doing or stop doing as a result of this awareness?
- Stop the “What If” thinking. When I concentrate on all the “what if’s?”, I’m focused on all that can go wrong. This only adds to my stress and worry. If I’m going to have “what if” thinking, then I make sure to include the positives as well. For example, what if the world becomes a better place because of the pandemic? As devastating as this pandemic has been, what positives have you noticed in yourself, your community, or the world?
- Remember to breathe. Stress and worry are a part of life. It’s important to know that stress and worry cannot be totally removed from your life. And, in a lot of ways stress can serve us. But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t. Coming back to the breath helps me to be in the present moment and calms my nervous system. Meditating has been very helpful and I am committed to continuing this practice.
- Work with a Coach. A coach can be your partner to help you through this difficult time, and also help you use this period as an opportunity to achieve your goals and help move your life, business or career forward.
I’m a leadership and executive coach, so I am biased here. However, I’ve watched my clients thrive during difficult life changes and challenges, with the support of a coach. When I was going through my cancer crisis last year, the first thing I did was hire a coach.
Coaching can help you become more adaptable and flexible to rapidly changing times, help you cope with challenges that arise, and be your thinking partner – which is particularly helpful during stressful times when your mind feels foggy. Coaches can also help you establish routines, adopt curiosity, help you stay centered, challenge your blind spots, and shift your perspective – all helpful benefits during uncertain times.
If you’re skeptical about coaching or not sure where to start, schedule a complimentary session with me and you’ll learn more about how coaching may be able to support you and your goals.