Life is full of uncertainty. For some people, this lack of information about the future can lead to excitement or anticipation. For others, it can be a source of worry, concern and a risk factor for certain forms of anxiety.
Uncertainty and ambiguity about the direction of life can have a serious impact on your mental wellbeing. As such, it’s important to learn healthy, productive habits for dealing with uncertainty and preventing it from hurting you.
The good news is that dealing with uncertainty is a skill, meaning the more often you practice it, the better you’ll become. With the right approach, you can go from struggling with uncertainty to handling unexpected events and difficult times with relative ease.
Below, we’ve shared seven strategies that you can use to keep your mind calm, build resilience and increase your tolerance of uncertainty.
Life can be a rollercoaster ride of stressful, anxiety-producing events, many of which are totally outside of your control.
For many people, the last few years have been uncertain times dominated by major, impactful events such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Feeling as if you lack control over stressful events can have a serious negative impact on your mental health. For example, research has found that feelings of helplessness regarding control over negative events are a key aspect of anxiety and depression.
One way to deal with uncertainty is to focus your time and attention on the aspects of your life that you can control.
For example, if you feel stressed or worried about becoming sick in the future (something that isn’t within your control), you can focus on living a healthy lifestyle in the present to keep your immune system strong and lower your risk of developing certain diseases.
Similarly, while you can’t control the economy, you can control your career, personal finances and spending habits.
To identify the aspects of your life that you can control, try writing a list of actionable steps that you can take to deal with your biggest worries, whether they’re related to your health, finances or just living a meaningful life.
By identifying what you can control (and equally as importantly, what you can’t directly control), you might find it easier to get the stress of uncertainty out of your mind and spend your time on things that bring you closer to achieving your goals.
One of the most effective ways to clear your mind and achieve a state of calm concentration is by practicing mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is about focusing your attention on what’s happening in the present, not ruminating about the future. It also involves accepting your thoughts, feelings and the physical sensations you experience without making any judgments.
Other research suggests that mindfulness training helps to promote positive thinking and reduce feelings of anxiety.
One of the biggest advantages of mindfulness meditation is that it’s easy to do, even if you have relatively little free time. You can meditate at home in as little as 10 minutes a day, or join a local group class to meditate with others.
Our guide to meditation for anxiety shares techniques that you can use to start meditating from home in your spare time.
While the right mental outlook and relaxation techniques may help you to worry less, there’s no reliable way to stop worrying completely.
Feeling stressed or worrying about the future is a natural part of life, and these emotions aren’t always bad. Even when life is going well for you, there will always be stressful events or people that cause you to feel worried, anxious or uncertain.
To make dealing with these feelings easier, try to establish healthy habits that you can turn to in order to calm your mind whenever you start to feel stressed, uncertain or overwhelmed.
Good habits for dealing with stress and uncertainty include keeping yourself active with regular exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet, limiting your alcohol consumption and reaching out to your friends and family when you need support.
When you feel worried or anxious about the future, turn to these habits to distract yourself and bring your mind back to the present.
While the right habits can help to reduce the stress and anxiety that accompanies uncertainty, others can make it worse.
One habit that could make feelings of uncertainty worse is doomsurfing — a term that refers to obsessively seeking out news and other content, usually negative, about a certain event, topic or person.
A related behavior is doomscrolling — obsessively scrolling through social media feeds to view content that often isn’t the best for your mental health.
Research suggests that doomsurfing and doomscrolling can produce intense, severe emotions, including feelings of anxiety, apprehension, uncertainty and fear.
Instead of compulsively checking social media, the news or other sources of stress, try limiting your exposure to negative, emotional content. Avoid letting yourself doomsurf or doomscroll by setting limits on the amount of time you spend on stress-inducing media consumption.
It may also help to completely cut out these sources of content at times when you need to relax, such as shortly before you go to bed.
When you’re in the middle of a stressful, uncertain situation, working out what to do can feel like an overwhelming, almost impossible task. One effective way to make it easier is to look back on your past successes in similar situations.
Think about uncertain situations you’ve successfully navigated through in the past. What did you do to keep your anxiety levels and stress under control? Were you nervous? What steps did you take that you could repeat in your current situation?
More importantly, what could you do differently this time? Use your real-life successes to remind yourself that you’ve done this before and that you can successfully do it again.
No one deals with every uncertain situation perfectly. It’s normal to have anxiety, irrational fears and other issues that stop you from responding perfectly to all of life’s uncertainties, and having these doesn’t make you weak or less than anyone else.
Everyone responds differently to stressful situations, and there’s nothing wrong with making the occasional mistake or feeling anxious about the future.
Instead of comparing yourself to others or aiming for perfection every time you’re placed under pressure, let yourself be imperfect. Be patient, move step by step and aim for steady progress, not perfect performance overnight.
Even modest changes to your habits and methods of thinking can help you to deal with difficult times, improve your personal efficacy and strengthen your sense of control over your life.
However, it’s not always easy to make these changes or identify the behaviors that are holding you back on your own.
If you’re struggling to deal with stress, uncertainty or anxiety, you may want to consider talking to a mental health provider.
You can do this by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral or scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist in your area. You can also get in touch with licensed, vetted providers from your home using our online mental health services.
Licensed mental health providers specialize in helping people deal with negative emotions and improve their methods of thinking. By taking part in therapy, you can learn healthy ways to stay in control of your stress levels and more effectively deal with uncertainty.
It’s impossible to avoid uncertainty, making it important to develop healthy skills for dealing with situations in which you might not instinctively know the right answer.
If you feel stressed, anxious or worried about the future often, try using the techniques above to keep yourself calm and turn your feelings into a source of motivation.
You can also learn effective strategies for dealing with anxiety, stress and uncertainty with our free online mental health resources.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.