Managing Uncertainty in Uncertain Times

These are uncertain times: It is difficult to predict what will happen next week, let alone in 3, 6 or 12 months. As humans, certainty and predictability make us feel safe and in control. A lack thereof can send us into a spin. There are two main approaches to managing uncertainty: acceptance and planning. We need to use a mix of both.


Engage with the discomfort of uncertainty

Uncertainty can trigger anxiety. That’s okay: work with it. Explore what your anxiety is warning you about. This may require you to dive into your past experiences and see what lies at the root of your anxiety. Familiarize and become friends with your anxiety. Understand what physical sensations come with it. Anxiety is just trying to alert you to threat. It is up to you to give feedback to this brain pathway to let your emotion centre know that everything is under control and it can stop firing. In order to do that, it is best to have some convincing arguments on your side, else you won’t believe yourself. Work those out and use them. 


Avoid avoidance

We can activate our body into movement (fight or flight!) by finding even just one option that can help us. Don’t spend too much time analysing the feasibility of the option at this stage as over-thinking will keep us frozen. Just take it as a form of leverage to catapult you out of your hole. Uncertainty can let us freeze as we get overwhelmed by the pressure to change, can’t see another way, feel like it is all too difficult. Avoid procrastinating and denial. When it comes to survival, a freeze response typically is the result of feeling helpless to change what is happening.


Think outside of the box

Uncertainty can cause us to freeze and become stuck. A good way to counteract this is by engaging with your creativity. Whether it is finding solutions for a problem or finding novel ways to make yourself feel better: Don’t judge what you put down during this brainstorming session. For many of us, our creative can be a bit rusty to start with as it is used to our rational side beating it down. We tend to limit ourselves. For this task, dream big. Be unreasonable, demand the impossible. Being playful and having fun with it will slowly lure our creativity out from behind its rock. Once the creative juices are flowing, new solutions pop up all over the place. This is because our brain works along associative networks and once we have embarked on a journey into out-of-the-box, all memories, experiences, and ideas linked to this network will come to us with ease. Make the most of the hidden layers of your brain.



Take small risks to build resilience

We can’t expect to find it easy to jump over the side of a cliff, if we have never even been on a cliff before. In quieter times, make the effort to take small risks. Something that makes you feel a 5 out of 10 on your anxiety levels. This can help us to build confidence in our coping abilities and emotional resilience. Then, when we are confronted with something that makes us hit 11 out of 10, we have some experiences to draw on. 


Recognize your Capabilities

This isn’t the first time you have dealt with uncertainty throughout your life. How did you manage uncertainty in previous situations? How did these situations resolve? Sometimes we are so caught up in the moment that we forget the tools we already have to cope with challenges. It can be helpful to go back in our memory and pinpoint times in which we took the reins and successfully navigated unpredictable, rocky paths. 


Connect to the bigger picture

As we are focused on somehow trying to keep all the life balls in the air without dropping any, we tend to forget the bigger picture. It helps to take a step back and observe from afar. Does it really matter for the bigger picture if we don’t get that task done today? Remind yourself of what is important to you. The biggest mental health challenges arise for us when we are not living a life that aligns with our values. If family time is a top priority for you in your values, but you spend 16 hours of your day at work, this mismatch will cause you discomfort. Remembering your values and re-evaluating your actions can help to reduce anxiety for some of the immediate stressors of life. 



See possibilities 

Change can be difficult and scary, but when there is uncertainty, we need to diversify our risk, plan different outcomes and explore new opportunities. If you can harness the exploration of novel possibilities, then you are one step ahead of uncertainty. Gather information, list options, rate how much you like the different outcomes, note what you need to move into the direction of any of these opportunities and make a more solid plan with three different routes. 

Practice self-care

It’s completely understandable to feel stressed and negative in times of uncertainty. Make the effort to engage in activities that bring intrinsic enjoyment. Be it pampering yourself with a massage, spending time outdoors or doing something fun that makes you happy: Schedule in quality time in which you can do what you need to do to recharge.

Use mindfulness

Being aware of the moment and being engaged in this experience does not allow past or future worries. Mindfulness can help to regulate negative feelings arising from uncertainties and strengthen attention to focus on what is needed to resolve challenges. Being mindful in the moment can also help us to recharge as it lets our brain rest from constant worrying or making plans. It let’s us enhance our awareness and step back from circumstances before responding, giving us greater control and choice in our responses. Managing uncertainty comes with plenty of challenges. As humans, we like consistency and routine, so change can shake us up and evoke anxiety. Use these strategies to become un-stuck. If you want to delve deeper and learn more, book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2715 4577 or e.terrighena@mind-balance.org

Dr Esslin Terrighena - Psychologist in Hong Kong

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