Uncertainty is the doubt you feel when you are facing an unknown or unpredictable situation.

The world today is filled with more uncertainty than ever before. Not knowing when the current situation will end and not having enough information about a possible cure or vaccine can make coping with the health crisis significantly harder.

When there are too many unknown variables about a situation, you might find yourself feeling stressed, anxious or worried. You may also experience uncomfortable physical sensations in your body. In order to feel better, you might engage in a number of time-consuming and tiring behaviors:

You may seek reassurance: You may find it difficult to make decisions, or may not freely express your opinions. You may ask your friends or family their opinion or decision before making your own. If you do make your own decision, you may second-guess yourself, and ask others for reassurance that you made the right decision.

You may make extensive lists: You may try to eliminate uncertainty by making very long and detailed lists. These lists may have different purposes. A to-do list may have detailed tasks of what you must certainly do in a day. However, when you feel uncertain or anxious you may also make a list of all the things that could go wrong, just so you can better prepare for those situations.

You may double-check everything: You may experience high levels of stress and anxiety, and may try to manage this by checking and re-checking everything. For example, you may call up your loved ones repeatedly to “make sure” that they are okay, or may constantly check the news being shown on different channels.

You may refuse to delegate tasks: If you are unable to tolerate uncertainty, you may not allow anyone either at work or at home to do certain tasks. Doing things yourself can help you feel in control. You may believe that you are the only person who can do tasks correctly and that others will get it wrong.

You may keep yourself busy: You may deal with uncertainty by trying not to think about it and may keep yourself busy most of the day. This may be another reason you don’t delegate work, as that way you can keep your mind occupied.

You may procrastinate or avoid situations: Because being uncertain can cause anxiety, you may try to procrastinate or avoid people, places or situations. This way, if you can avoid facing the uncertainty, you won’t feel anxious about the situation.

These behaviours are commonly seen in individuals who are unable to tolerate or manage uncertainty. While these actions might give temporary relief, they are actually found to be quite unhelpful in the long run. In fact, you might find yourself becoming dependent on these behaviours to the extent that if you can’t engage in them, you might end up feeling even more anxious than before.

To manage uncertainty effectively and in a healthy way, you need to learn to become more tolerant of it. Here are some strategies you can use to better cope with uncertainty:

Refocus your thoughts

Let go of negative thinking

You may have a number of negative thoughts playing on your mind, especially right now. These unhelpful thoughts can lead to negative emotions. Challenging and reframing these thoughts can help you let go of negativity and feel better. Identify the thought on your mind and try to evaluate whether it is logical or rational. Ask yourself if there are any facts that contradict your thoughts. If nothing else works, ask yourself if thinking this way is helping you. This can motivate you to take action to replace your thoughts.

Build positive self-talk

Make a conscious effort to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. Think of more balanced and healthier ways of looking at a certain situation. For instance, when you are feeling distressed due to uncertainty, ask yourself what you would say to a friend in a similar situation. Then, say these same things to yourself. You can even repeat positive statements — called affirmations — to yourself in an attempt to talk to yourself positively. These can include statements like, “I will get through this” or “I can manage uncertainty” or even, “I am calm and in control.”

Reflect on your past

You can think about a situation in the past where you’ve faced uncertainty before. Remind yourself of how you overcame that situation. Keep this in mind and assure yourself that you will overcome this situation as well. You can even try to think of specific strategies you tried and the resources that came in handy while addressing an uncertain situation in the past.

Manage your emotions

Identify and fulfill your emotional needs

The current situation can bring a host of different emotions. Try to identify what your emotional needs are and find a way to fulfill them. This can be difficult to do as you may struggle to identify what you actually feel. The first step therefore is to label a negative feeling. Then, focus on what you want to feel instead. For instance, when you’re feeling flat or disinterested, you can tell yourself, “I’m feeling bored.” Then, you can say, “I want to feel engaged.” Work towards communicating this need with the people around you and try to find different ways you can stay engaged — whether this means doing household chores, learning something new, watching a new show, or playing games.

Accept your emotions

You may be feeling many negative emotions — stress, anger, worry, frustration, or even fear. Remind yourself that these are common human emotions and that it is okay to experience them, especially in such challenging situations. Doing this can validate your emotions and remind you that you are not alone. You can write about your emotions in a journal and reflect upon what you have written to better understand them.

Soothe yourself

At times, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed and burdened with all that is going on — in these cases, self-soothing can be a helpful skill. Your mind is more capable of providing you with a solution to overcome problems when it is relaxed. You can try simple things like taking deep breaths, having a shower, listening to music, or pacing for some time. You could also meditate or practise visualisation to calm yourself down.

Be mindful

Focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or the future. You may end up missing moments of your life because you weren’t paying attention. To build mindfulness, you can try practising mindful meditation — a simple breathing exercise where you observe the way your breath flows. You could even try mundane task focussing — a technique in which you use your five senses while doing a chore or everyday task. 

Build better actions

Maintain your daily routine

Maintain your existing routine, or try to set a new routine to deal with this situation. Doing this will help you stay grounded and remind you that there are still some things that are within your control. Your daily routine should include sleeping and waking up at the same time every day, having meals regularly, doing some exercise, engaging in school or work for a specific number of hours and having time for yourself.

Make practical plans

Keep yourself up to date with the latest news and information coming from legitimate sources. Listen to what the experts are saying and try to make plans for what you can do in the current situation. Doing this can help you feel more in control of the situation and can help you manage stress. In the current situation, this may include things like postponing non-urgent doctor’s appointments, canceling any upcoming trips, practising social distancing, buying groceries for longer periods of time, and wearing masks.

Focus on your strengths and values

There may be many things that you are good at. Identify some of these areas and try to spend some time practising your skills. This can boost your confidence and make you feel better prepared to handle any uncertain situation. For instance, if you are an artistic person, spend at least some time a week creating some form of art. This can include singing, painting, sculpting, dancing, or playing an instrument.

Take it one step at a time

Remind yourself that uncertainty is unavoidable. Each day brings with it some uncertainty and unpredictability. Yet, you manage to get through the entire day. Tolerating uncertainty is a skill that can be built with practise. To start off, think of something that is not too uncertain and expose yourself to it. With time, you will find yourself feeling more comfortable amidst uncertainty.

For instance, you can maybe start by trying out a new recipe. While you may feel uncertain about how it will turn out, prepare the dish anyway. Once it’s ready, see what happens. You may find that the dish actually tastes really good. Or the meal may not taste too good and you may in fact need to eat something else. You can send a picture of your ruined dish to a friend and both of you can laugh about it!

While the current situation is difficult to deal with, it is important to remember that it will eventually pass. Until then, you can try using these strategies to help cope with the uncertainty that you experience.


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