3 Strategies to Deal With Life's Uncertainties
Uncertainty is an inevitable part of human life, yet many of us, including myself, struggle to deal with it. Numerous studies have linked high intolerance to anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and eating disorders. Uncertainty also impacts our behaviors and decision making processes in our day-to-day life, even in the absence of more significant diagnoses.
In our digital, fast-paced society, it seems to me that our tolerance for uncertainty has diminished dramatically. We no longer need to be uncertain about the weather, the sex of our baby, or where our children and loved ones are. Answers to so many things are available to us now that we have lost the ability to deal with life’s uncertainties. We can text our children and ask where they are when they are not near us. We can check our phone for the weather and the latest news. We can ask for medical tests that give us the answers we seek or google the answer to most of life’s mysteries.
But all of the advances in science and conveniences of modern life cannot take away the inherent truth that we ultimately have no control. We cannot predict our future. We cannot control outcomes. We cannot foreshadow our health, predict our future financial situation, or nail down our relationships so they will always stay the same. We don’t know what the future ultimately holds. None of us do. We can control our environment, try to keep our families together, put away money for rainy days, and manufacture a happy ending. But all of these measures of certainty are ultimately build on quicksand.
Relationships can end without warning. Health can decline despite taking exceptional care of ourselves, the stock market can take a nosedive, and all of our best-laid plans can fall apart. Life is uncertain.
However, you can learn how to become more resilient and increase your tolerance to uncertainty by implementing some of these strategies.
1. Practice uncertainty deliberately and gradually
Even though we face risk every day, we tend to avoid feeling the discomfort. By regularly checking in on our loved ones over the phone, or checking our bank accounts every few hours, or googling the answers to our pressing questions, we may feel relief in the short term, but it lessens our ability to deal with anything short of complete certainty in the long run.
Tolerance for uncertainty is a muscle that can be build. Next time you feel the urge to check in with your child for the tenth time during the day, wait an hour instead. Notice the discomfort and anxiety rise. It will reach a peak, and if you do not pick up the phone to text, it will subside again. Most of us suffering from anxiety, tend to think that our fear will continue to grow and only picking up the phone will lessen it. However, the opposite is true. Our intolerance will build and then subside without picking up the phone. Every time we do pick up the phone, our anxiety grows stronger, and the need to repeat the behavior grows.
Allow yourself to feel anxious, pay attention to how it feels. It will come on like a wave, observe the discomfort, let it reach a peak, and then watch it subside. If you make this your practice, the waves will become less frequent and severe.
2. Trust yourself
You may hate uncertainty because you fear your ability to handle a crisis or the adverse events that life will throw at you. Most people overestimate how badly something will feel and underestimate their ability to handle a crisis.
It turns out humans are very resilient, even in the face of stressful and traumatic events. If a crisis materializes, you will handle it. Think back on your life. What traumas, disasters, and crises have you handled before? Has your track record of making it through bad days not been pretty good so far? You are still here. Whatever life has thrown at you, you have survived it. You are capable of handling whatever comes next. You are stronger than you think!
We tend to hold our breath in moments of fear. When you notice the terror of uncertainty creeping in, take deep, slow breaths. Watch the panic rise in you. Fear is nothing more than energy. It cannot hurt you. Notice it creeping in, taking over your body, trust in the fact that it cannot hurt you, and it will subside again. Depending on your level of anxiety and intolerance to uncertainty, you may have to practice breathing a lot.
The breath reminds us to slow down and pay attention. Slow deep breaths also produce the chemical changes in our body that make anxiety impossible. You cannot be deep breathing and anxious at the same time. It is a physical impossibility.
Try these strategies the next time you feel severe anxiety coming on and watch yourself become more peaceful in times of uncertainty.