When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. —Victor Frankl. This is the third of three blogs about uncertainty – this one focusing on strategies for managing uncertainty. As human beings, we crave security – having a sense of control over ourselves, those around us and the world we live in. But the current COVID-19 pandemic has heightened uncertainty over the economy, employment, finances, our relationships, and of course, our physical and mental health.
My previous blog looked at learning to deal with difficult emotions and looking closely at our possibly unhelpful behaviours around managing uncertainty. This blog offers a few more strategies:
Keep a sense of perspective
For every unpleasant surprise, such as a traffic accident or serious medical diagnosis, there are good things that happen out of the blue as well—a job offer or an unexpected phone call from an old friend. Opportunity often arises from the unexpected and having to face uncertainty in life can also help you learn to adapt, overcome challenges, and increase your resiliency. It can help you to grow as a person.
Learn to ACCEPT uncertainty
The truth is you already accept a lot of uncertainty every day. Each time you cross a street or get behind the wheel of a car, you are accepting a level of uncertainty. You’re trusting that the traffic will stop, that you won’t have an accident. The chances of something bad happening in these circumstances is small, so you accept the risk and move on without requiring certainty.
Identify your uncertainty triggers
Reading media stories that focus on worst-case scenarios, spending time on social media amid rumours and half-truths, or simply communicating with anxious friends can all fuel your own fears and uncertainties.
- Recognise when you feel the need for certainty
Notice when you start to feel anxious and fearful about a situation, begin to worry about what-ifs, or feel like a situation is far worse than it actually is. Look for the physical cues that you’re feeling anxious. You might notice the tension in your neck or shoulders, shortness of breath, the onset of a headache, or an empty feeling in your stomach. Take a moment to pause and recognise that you’re craving reassurance or a guarantee. And tell yourself “this is OK – I’m normal, I’m human.”
Instead of engaging in futile efforts to gain control over the uncontrollable, let yourself experience the discomfort of uncertainty. Like all emotions, if you allow yourself to feel fear and uncertainty, they will eventually pass. Focus on the present moment and your breathing and allow yourself to simply feel and observe the uncertainty you’re experiencing. Take some slow, deep breaths or do some meditation to keep you anchored in the present.
Shift your attention
Focus on solvable worries, taking action on those aspects of a problem that you can control, or simply go back to what you were doing. When your mind wanders back to worrying or the feelings of uncertainty return, refocus your mind on the present moment and your own breathing.
You can learn to purposely focus your attention on the present through mindfulness. With regular practice, mindfulness can help change your preoccupation with future worries to a stronger appreciation of the present moment—as well as help calm your mind, ease stress, and boost your overall mood.
You can start a mindfulness practice by following an audio meditation or incorporating it into an exercise program, such as walking. Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present can take perseverance. Initially, you may find that your focus keeps wandering back to your future fears and worries—but keep at it. Each time you focus your attention back on the present, you’re strengthening a new mental habit that can help you break free of uncertainty.
- Manage stress and anxiety
Any list of useful strategies for managing uncertainty have to include taking steps to reduce your overall stress and anxiety levels. If we can interrupt the downward spiral of negative thoughts there is more chance we will find inner calm (at least sometimes!), and better cope with the uncertainty in our life:
- Get moving. Exercise is a natural and effective stress-reliever and anti-anxiety treatment. Try adding a mindfulness element and focusing on how your body feels as you move. Pay attention to the sensation of your feet hitting the ground as you walk, run, or dance, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the sun or wind on your skin.
- Make time for relaxation. Choose a relaxation technique such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises and try to set aside time each day for regular practice.
- Get plenty of sleep. Excessive worry and uncertainty can disturb your sleep—just as a lack of quality sleep can fuel anxiety and stress. Improving your daytime habits and taking time to relax and unwind before bed can help you to sleep better at night.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating in as healthy a way as possible can help maintain your energy levels and prevent mood swings. Avoid sugary and processed foods, lower caffeine and alcohol intake.
Viktor Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997)was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and author, and a Holocaust survivor. He is most noted for his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
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