Living under changing covid-19 restrictions has impacted us for a number of months now, and is likely to continue to affect the future for many. As our abilities to make plans in such an unpredictable environment are diminished, how can we learn to cope with uncertainty in order to help our mental health?
Why is uncertainty stressful?
Uncertainty occurs when our sense of familiar shifts, and things are in a state of flux – where no one knows what will happen next, or what a new normal might look like once the dust settles. The human body is hardwired to react to uncertainty in the same way as our brains are designed to assess potential dangers. Therefore uncertainty and unpredictability result in our nervous systems being on high alert; ready to react through fight, flight, or freeze.
Worrying is also a consequence of our desire to be in control – whether in terms of our environment, or the outcome of a situation. But the more we attempt to control everything around us, the more stressed we feel – which can eventually become a vicious circle.
Therefore the first and most vital step towards becoming more accepting of uncertainty – and better at dealing with it – is to understand that almost nothing is certain. Maintaining a sense of perspective is also vital – viruses and diseases have been with us since the dawn of time; and humans have adapted to living along a spectrum of medical, physical, and mental health risks. Some cultures spend lifetimes in challenging environments with little or no access to clean water, food, or sanitation – but still learn how to adapt, survive, and thrive. Such changes in perspective can result in a shift from despair to hope.
Learning how to cope with uncertainty brings many benefits. Making the most of whatever resources we have – and mastering challenges – can increase confidence, build resilience, and develop skills which all contribute to us creating a more fulfilling life.
What can we do about it?
Actions that can help you become more comfortable with uncertainty include:
- Practising kindness, compassion and empathy towards yourself and others.
- Staying hydrated —many people don’t drink enough water, and even mild dehydration exacerbates anxiety.
- Noticing your breathing, and make your breathing slower and deeper. Stress and uncertainty tends to make breathing faster and more shallow, which becomes a vicious circle as the brain is starved of oxygen thus increasing anxiety.
- Getting moving. Exercise flushes the body’s stress hormones; and even during winter, there are plenty of free routines and tutorials on YouTube for whatever level you feel comfortable with. This also applies to more mindful forms of exercise such as yoga.
- Reminding yourself of your core values – the personal principles by which you live.
- Doing at least one thing that aligns with these core values, something you can genuinely feel positive about.
- Remembering to be grateful for whatever you do have. Imagine what life would be like without the people or things in your life you perhaps take for granted, in order to realise how fortunate you are.
- If you can, being of service and doing something meaningful for those less fortunate. Reminding ourselves how we can add value to the lives of others, no matter how small, reinforces our own sense of meaning and purpose.
- Taking action to become part of a solution. This can take many forms – from educating yourself (and maybe others), to becoming involved with groups campaigning for the changes you wish to see. Giving yourself a sense of control and purpose in this way not only gives you the opportunity to engage with something you’re passionate about – potentially with other like-minded people – but diminishes the helplessness which often contributes to anxiety. Be the change you seek!
How will this help?
When you learn to cope with uncertainty, you’ll have more time and energy to devote to the things you do have control over – and this can be key to reaching your highest potential. Remembering that ‘this too shall pass’ can also motivate us to become more appreciative, charitable, and selfless. And because crises disrupt the familiar and comfortable, these shifting sands also offer rare opportunities for growth and change. Such possibilities might not have existed before, at least not in our conscious awareness – but the situation can impair our ability to realise and potentially make the most of such opportunities. However, post-traumatic growth can become a reality if we are able to find meaning and learn lessons in the aftermath of stressful circumstances – and may be the best way we can contemplate the future for ourselves once the pandemic is over.
If you need support throughout this process, I am a qualified hypnotherapist and coach who can support and empower you through this process of change (see my success stories). I offer online sessions wherever in the world you may be, so please feel welcome to call me on 07947 475721 for a free no-obligation 15 minute phone consultation – and soon you will be able to take new coping skills into whatever the future holds.