“UNCERTAINTY, when we don’t have enough information about the future—when things are uncertain—it makes perfect sense to be anxious.”
Uncertainty, lack of control, a shortage of answers—these nebulous unknowns, whether sweeping or mundane, are natural and very normal catalysts for anxiety. Biology is responsible for the unpleasantness we feel in times of uncertainty—and with the best of intentions, believe it or not.
Most people are creatures of habit. When things go as planned, we feel in control. But when life throws a curveball, it can leave us feeling anxious and stressed.
Research shows that people react differently to uncertainty, and that those with a higher intolerance for uncertainty may be less resilient and more prone to low mood, negative or down feelings and anxiety.
No one can avoid the unexpected. But these simple steps can help you better face life’s uncertainties.
- Be kind to yourself. – Some people are better at dealing with uncertainties than others, so don’t beat yourself up if your tolerance for unpredictability is lower than a friend’s. Remind yourself that it might take time for the stressful situation to resolve, and be patient with yourself in the meantime.
- Reflect on past successes – Chances are you’ve overcome stressful events in the past – and you survived! Give yourself credit. Reflect on what you did during that event that was helpful, and what you might like to do differently this time.
- Develop new skills. – When life is relatively calm, make a point to try things outside your comfort zone. From standing up to a difficult boss to trying a new sport, taking risks helps you develop confidence and skills that come in handy when life veers off course.
- Limit exposure to news. – When we’re stressed about something, it can be hard to look away. But compulsively checking the news only keeps you wound up. Try to limit your check-ins and avoid the news during vulnerable times of day, such as right before bedtime.
- Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. – When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine worst-case scenarios. Get out of the habit of ruminating on negative events.
- Take your own advice. – Ask yourself: If a friend came to me with this worry, what would I tell? Imagining your situation from the outside can often provide perspective and fresh ideas.
- Engage in self-care. – Don’t let stress derail your healthy routines. Make efforts to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Many people find stress release in practices such as yoga and meditation.
- Seek support from those you trust. – Many people isolate themselves when they’re stressed or worried. But social support is important, so reach out to family and friends.
- Control what you can. – Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s as simple as weekly meal planning or laying out your clothes the night before a stressful day. Establish routines to give your days and weeks some comforting structure.
- Ask for help. – If you’re having trouble managing stress and coping with uncertainty on your own, ask for help. Psychologists are experts in helping people develop healthy ways to cope with stress.
- Practice Mindfulness. – Mindfulness is active and intentional awareness. You can exercise mindfulness when simply sitting at the kitchen table eating your lunch, feel the chair; appreciate the texture of the food as you chew; note the sensation of going from hungry to satisfied. It’s not easy, but it’s incredibly powerful and can be enhanced by rigorous practice.
- Seek out humour. – Whether it’s a TV show, funny Tweets, or a group chat with friends, humor is very much about the here-and-now. The more we’re in that head space, the less our minds travel to the future and remind us of how uncertain it is.
- Don’t rely on temporary distractions. – It’s unhealthy to fill the void left by feelings of uncertainty with escapist behaviors like excessive drinking, using drugs, engaging in emotional eating, or denying there’s a problem. Denial, or avoidance, is one extreme response (the other is over engaging).
“ANXIETY & UNCERTAINITY in the time of CORONA VIRUS”
This time of unprecedented uncertainty as we collectively fight the spread of corona virus, for example, is powerful enough to set even the least-anxious person on edge. To reiterate: What you are feeling right now is completely standard.
When things in the world change such that uncertainty increases (like right now), everyone’s anxiety level (regardless of where they were) tend to go up. For some people this will look like an exacerbation of an existing anxiety disorder, and for others it might mean developing one for the first time.” The good news is there are methods of dealing with these nagging feelings of dread. We can’t stop hurricanes, bad news, pandemics, or the clock; but it helps to focus on what you can control- YOURSELF.