There are a lot of cute things to say about uncertainty. “Uncertainty is the only certain thing!” is the general theme. But sometimes uncertainty can get on top of us. We can feel unmoored, and many of us have a natural tendency to assume that uncertainty will have the worst possible result. Or sometimes uncertainty can lead us to expect results that aren’t even really possible. This can cause, or be a part of anxiety.
The world is an unstable place, we can be impacted by events that happen in places we’ve never even heard of. Even if things are great and seem stable now, we can’t be sure how long they’ll be stable for.
Any complex part of life, like health, finances, relationships, work, education, housing or the weather can be a source of uncertainty. As any book of quotes will tell you, we can’t escape uncertainty. Sometimes we spend huge amounts of energy trying to get things nailed down, only to have something ridiculous come out of nowhere and set everything on a totally different path.
How uncertainty impacts us
The impact that uncertainty has on us can vary. Some people find themselves making dozens of plans for different contingencies. Some people find themselves incapacitated when trying to make a decision they can’t be absolutely sure of the outcome. Some people feel a constant background anxiety, which can lead them to choose only safe options, and some melt down when something unpredictable happens. Do any of these fit your patterns? Does uncertainty make you uncomfortable, or stop you doing things you would otherwise like to do?
How to embrace uncertainty
There is hope! We can learn to live with, or even embrace uncertainty. There are a few paths to getting comfortable with uncertainty, but they mostly focus on our habits of thinking.
Look at what worrying does for you, and what it costs you
Planning can be important, it lets us do things we wouldn’t be able to just off the cuff. Anxiety about uncertainty can have us plan too much, and lose a lot of time and even happiness. Are there areas of life where your concerns about uncertainty make you feel awful? Noting these areas, and even writing out the good and bad parts of uncertainty, and the good and bad parts of worrying about it, can start the process of reducing the impact anxiety has on you.
Be realistic about the up and downsides of uncertainty
By being realistic about uncertainty, you can challenge your thought habits. It can be uncomfortable, but can lead to long-term change. Another important tool is mindfulness. In this context, mindfulness means being aware of your thought habits while they are happening. Saying to yourself “I’m noticing that I’m thinking about (whatever is making you anxious)” can change your relationship to the thought. Instead of it consuming all of your attention, you can accept that the thought is there, but maybe it’s taking up too much space for you. Some people find it effective to thank thoughts that stress them out. If you find yourself getting anxious thinking about preparing a perfect meal, you could thank the thought for demonstrating that you really care about the people you are preparing it for.
Talk through your worries about uncertainty
Talking with a friend or mental health professional can help, in combination with the above techniques. Bringing yourself back to the present moment, and enjoying what you can at the time can make uncertainty less stressful. Try these things out, and hopefully they will start to reduce your stress and anxiety. Don’t beat yourself up if they don’t work straight away, habits take time and practice to change. By looking at the issue and facing it front on, you’ve already started on the path to being more relaxed and flexible, and enjoying the great surprises uncertainty can bring.