The feeling of instability and insecurity in America is an all-encompassing reality. It’s a world problem, and it’s a personal issue. While you can’t solve the world’s problems, you can transform your uncertainty, so it doesn’t lead to anger or added stress.
Life is uncertain
Do you ever feel like you’re walking a tight rope, trying to balance all the unknowns in the world unsure if you’ll succeed or fail? It’s likely you’ve felt this way at some point in your life. Whether it’s personal stressors or society that drove you to feel this way.
With all the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, you may find yourself stressing about the unknowns. If you’re not already practicing social distancing, you maybe soon. It’s stressful.
It’s impossible to avoid the headlines any day, but especially when there are health and safety concerns.
No matter what’s troubling the nation and world — illness, political disagreements, or violence — life is always unpredictable. Questions like will I be able to retire, are we headed toward another recession, or are we in a housing bubble are on our minds often. They’re just questions that are more prevalent at certain times.
Uncertainty is an undercurrent in our always-on, globally-connected world. On top of the world concerns that personally impact us, there are concerns within our own lives.
Together, these worries lead to anxiety and stress, and for some, it may even trigger anger.
Dealing with uncertainty, though, means putting it into perspective. Life’s always been uncertain – whether it’s today or decades ago. Think about the unknowns Americans faced during the Great Depression or the World Wars.
“The only certainty is that nothing is certain.”
– Pliny the Elder (Roman author and philosopher)
So, if life is uncertain how do you deal with it? After all, you can’t control the world, the stock market, the spread of a virus, or challenges in life. However, you can control how you react to it and feel about it.
Plus, small steps you can take to change your life each month.
How to deal with uncertainty
If you’re ready to tackle uncertainty, recognize that you’re already doing it subconsciously every day. For example, think about crossing the street. There’s no certainty you’ll make it across, but most of us proceed without a second thought.
How about love? When you choose to love another human being, there is no guarantee they will love you back; or, that they will still like you a year, two years, 20 years from now. Or, that they won’t hurt you at some point in the relationship. In fact, love is such a risky endeavor it comes with its own anger triggers.
We cling to the idea of control and certainty in spite of overwhelming evidence that these are nothing more than illusions — a product of our brain’s effort to avoid dealing with fear and the uncertainty of life. Most often, we experience uncertainty as worry or anxiety, which can be triggered by emotional upheaval, life changes, new possibilities, and shifts in perspective.
As you explore the role uncertainty plays in your life, you may feel some resistance and discomfort. That’s completely normal. Your brain means well, yet sometimes it can act in direct opposition to what will benefit you the most in the present moment.
Uncertainty is not “bad” in itself; it’s our tolerance of unpredictability that determines our reaction and the subsequent effect on our life. The best way to deal with uncertainty is to build up your tolerance. Here are four ways to do that.
- Engage uncertainty.
- Make uncertainty positive.
- Be here now.
First, don’t shy away from the unknown. Face it head-on. Acknowledge it’s there and welcome the possibilities.
If you’re uncertain you’ll get a promotion at work, use it as an opportunity to sharpen your skills or expand your knowledge so you can get another job or get the next promotion.
If you’re at home more with your children rather than racing from one commitment to another, then embrace it as quality family time. Get out the board games, and bond. Take advantage of this rare opportunity in life, and make memories rather than worrying about what you can’t control. There are endless possibilities when you embrace a challenge.
Make uncertainty positive
When you think of uncertainty, does it make you apprehensive? Spin those concerns into positivity. It’s possible for it to lead to good, excellent, or even neutral outcomes. Focus on the positive. It will keep you stress-free.
That can be difficult when your day is full of problems filling your mind with negativity. Instead of dwelling on all that’s gone wrong, find something that’s gone right. If it’s hard to do at the moment, reflect at least once a day.
It’s easy to get sucked into the all-consuming news coverage when there’s economic, financial, and health uncertainty. While it’s important to know the latest during this uncertain time, monitor closely how often you check for updates. Keep the conversations about it limited.
If you find you can’t put your phone down, take a technology timeout, and you’ll likely see a boost in happiness follow.
To begin shifting your mindset to a more upbeat one, keep a gratitude journal. It will help you focus on the positive rather than the negative, and slowly start a shift in your mindset.
Share your gratitude too, by writing cards to nursing home residents who no longer have personal contact with loved ones and are likely nervous and uncertain themselves. Reassure them that they’re loved. You can do the same for healthcare workers on the front lines of this virus. Sharing your gratitude with others will make you feel good in return.
There’s a lot to be grateful for during this difficult time, even if you’re daily schedule is dramatically altered with all this unpredictability.
Taking action now will help you today and in the future. So, when the next uncertain situation arises, you’ll think of it in a positive light rather than negative.
This is one in a series of articles that are part of our special COVID-19 toolkit. Get tips to improve your well-being, lower stress, and maintain calm during an uncertain time.
A lot of times we get stuck in our heads and forget to enjoy the present. Instead of wishing your life were some other way, say yes to the life you have!
If you find yourself obsessing over the what-ifs, try one of these activities:
- Write in a journal.
- Have a real-life conversation – no phone, no screens, no tech. In fact, it’s powerful to ditch tech altogether. There’s a sort of freedom in a technology timeout, although it’s difficult to do in this ever-connected world.
- Go for a walk or a run.
- Craft or create something with your hands.
Do whatever will interrupt your current thought pattern and redirect your thinking to the positive.
Spiritual teacher and author, Eckhart Tolle, enlightens people to “The Power of Now” in his best-selling book. He describes it as a way to free yourself and live a more enlighted life.
He’s living proof it works. The book stems from his journey to find happiness by living his life in the present rather than dwelling on the past.
When you live life this way, you’ll treasure and honor things you probably took for granted or never recognized before.
Mindfulness is a great way to live in the now! You can also try these mind and body relaxation exercises to relax and calm your thoughts. During this time of social distancing, a walk outside in nature is also therapeutic for the mind, body, and soul. And, you won’t be near many people.
When was the last time you focused on your breath? Take a few minutes to do this. Do you feel different? With mindfulness, you focus on the present rather than worrying about the past and future. It starts in the purest form – focusing on your breathing. When you focus on your breath, you’ll stay calm rather than getting angry about an uncertain moment.
Steps to overcome uncertainty
Remember, life is always uncertain. These are four ways to deal with uncertainty:
- Engage uncertainty.
- Make uncertainty positive.
- Be here now.
These are just a few ways to manage uncertainty, so it doesn’t always lead to anger. There are so many more as Travis Bradberry explores in 11 ways emotionally intelligent people overcome uncertainty. Bottom line: embrace the possibilities. Think how bored you’d be if everything in life were certain.
How are you managing in these uncertain times?
As a physician, healthcare executive at a Fortune 100 company, and integrative health practitioner, Z. Colette Edwards, MD, MBA knows the unique value of a holistic, whole-person approach to health and well-being. She also understands the challenges health inequities can present. Known as “The Insight Doctor,” she offers guidance and powerful tools that prepare your body, mind, and spirit for menopause, stress, and inflammatory bowel disease. Lastly, Dr. Edwards coaches individuals in the development of self-advocacy and health system navigation skills.
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)