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Dealing with Uncertainty

Knowing what the future may hold and what to expect allows people to feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Unfortunately, many people’s lives have been thrown into chaos over the recent months without a definite end in sight due to COVID-19 and all of the changes it has caused. Fear of the unknown is not a new human experience, but the circumstances currently affecting day-to-day life are new in the sense that nothing quite like it has happened in modern times. It’s normal to not like change and it’s normal to feel uncomfortable with not knowing what will happen next. This week’s blog will focus on dealing with that discomfort of uncertainty.

Why We Have Fear Of the Unknown

Little kids are often afraid of the dark, but why? Instinctually, we feel better when we can see and anticipate what is in our surroundings and what (if anything) is coming toward us. Though there may not be real monsters under our bed, adult life can present a lot of scary situations that we can’t “see” the end of. Children and adults alike become uncomfortable in new situations.

Why we feel uncomfortable with uncertainty
  • Feeling unprepared
  • A forced break in a normal or comfortable routine or pattern
  • Worried that we are not competent or capable enough to deal with the situation at hand
  • Confusion
  • Not having adequate information
  • Perceived (or real) lack of resources to cope effectively and safely
  • Being scared of embarrassing yourself
  • Ruminating on worst case scenarios
  • Fearing loss (of a person or material things) or harm coming to yourself and others
  • Anticipating further disaster or personal failure
  • Feeling out of control

People use calendars (paper and virtual) to plan out their days because having a plan and executing it feels good. When that plan or the resources needed to execute it are no longer available to you, it can feel like your whole life is ending. It takes a lot of energy and mental strength to start formulating a new plan or routine with differing resources.

It’s All About Control and…Surrender?

You don’t have to be considered a “control freak” to acknowledge that feeling unable to control aspects of your environment is uncomfortable. Though circumstances change, we are rarely, if ever, completely without choices. Usually, there are at least some small things that are under our control and things we can do to influence a situation, people, or the surrounding environment. For example, you always get to choose how you respond to a situation. No one and nothing can take that from you. That freedom is always yours.

So how do we deal with the discomfort that uncertainty often brings?
  • Plan for what you can
  • Focus on what is in your control
  • Consider if your worst-case scenario is realistic, and if it is, allow yourself to make a plan for it
  • Identify what you need to feel safe
  • Reflect on the difference between an inconvenience and immediate danger
  • Conduct regular mental health check-ins and make time to engage in self care
  • Construct a new routine that feels good to you
  • Speak with trusted friends and family about how they handle uncertainly/your current situation

We can’t plan for everything in life. The one constant thing we will ALWAYS experience is change. If we surrender to that idea and try to accept it instead of resist it, we can learn to ride the waves of change instead of feeling bowled over by them. There are going to be times that we are blindsided, but that doesn’t mean that we have to spend our time expending energy worrying about when that might happen—because it has already happened!

Now, we have the opportunity to re-evaluate what we need to feel safe and restabilize. You can use this time and space to recreate. Start by focusing on what is in your control. This may be overwhelming at first and you may feel like this is easier said than done.

Try the following exercise of identifying what is in your:
  • Immediate control (you can do something about it now)
  • Near control (it will be in your control soon)
  • May be in your control (it is uncertain when you may be able to influence the situation)
  • Definitely not in your control (unlikely or impossible for you to change)

People like to feel as though they are making progress. It helps us to feel safe. Identify something you can do to change your current situation. You may not be able to change uncertainty say, revolving around job insecurity, but in the moment, you can certainly do something that can make you feel a bit more in the driver’s seat like contacting a temp agency or engaging in some self-care like ensuring you clean your living space.

If something isn’t in your immediate control and isn’t likely to be, practicing some surrender may be in order. This may sound like “giving up,” and some may equate it with weakness, but “surrendering” or giving up grasping at things we can’t control actually frees up our strength to be used elsewhere, for things that nurture us and those around us. Surrender doesn’t have to be related to spirituality, but it certainly can be as well. You may “surrender” a certain situation by giving it up to the universe or God to handle, for example, and meditating on that while you let that tension and angst surrounding that situation seep out of you.

Ongoing Help

There is no shame in needing some extra support with everyday life stressors, but especially not when life has been turned upside down. Everyone has their own internal and external battles that they are facing. An Angelus therapist can not only help you to unravel some knots you have had in your chest, but also to make a plan concerning what is in your control and ways to try to release and let go of the rest. It may sound simple in theory, but we realize that this isn’t always so simple in practice. Make an appointment with an Angelus therapist today to work toward dealing with uncertainty in healthy ways.

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, LPC PhD