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Reduce Stress by Managing Uncertainty

Reduce Stress by Managing Uncertainty

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. —Victor Frankl

This blog looks at ways we can reduce stress by managing uncertainty. As I wrote in my previous blog, human beings crave security. We  need to have 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.

We’re all different in how much uncertainty we can tolerate in life. Some people seem to enjoy “living on the edge” – taking risks and living unpredictable lives, while others need to organise and feel in control of all areas of their lives. All of us have a limit and during 2020, for most of us, this has been constantly challenged. How can we, as Viktor Frankl says in the opening quotation, change ourselves?

This blog and the following one, look at strategies we can all use in order to manage uncertainty and reduce stress levels:

1. Learn to deal with difficult emotions

When circumstances are out of our control, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by fear and negative emotions. We may think that pushing down strong feelings and forcing ourself to be positive will provide the best outcome. But denying or suppressing our emotions will only increase stress and anxiety and make us more vulnerable to depression or burnout.

When we can do nothing else about a situation, we can still actively face up to our emotions—even the most negative and fearful ones. Take a few minutes in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, take some slow, deep breaths and simply allow the emotions to come up, naming them one by one – there are usually a mixture. They might include fear, anger or frustration, sadness or guilt. All these are appropriate and normal! Emotions come and go, rise and fall, and simply acknowledging them can help us to reduce stress, better come to terms with our circumstances, and find a sense of peace as we deal with challenges.

2. Look closely at our behaviours

Sometimes we need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and look at what behaviours we use in order to manage uncertainty and increase control. Some examples include:

  • Excessively seeking reassurance from others

This might mean repeatedly ask friends or loved ones if we’re making the right decision or endlessly researching information online

  • Trying to micromanage people

Whether in the workplace or at home, we sometimes can try to force people around us to change, to make their behaviour more predictable or acceptable for us. 

  • Procrastination

By not making decisions, or taking positive actions, we hope to avoid the uncertainty that inevitably follows.However, this is rarely a useful strategy – we will feel more stressed because we are aware that we are doing this. 

  • Repeatedly checking things

This might involve calling and texting family and friends to make sure they’re OK or checking and re-checking tasks we have done in case we missed something important. 

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.