By Barbara Pierce
“There’s so much uncertainty,” said Bear.
“What should we do?” asked Rabbit.
“I know what to do! I’ll make tea,” Rabbit continued.
“How does that help?” asked Bear.
“It won’t, not really. Only for a moment. But in that moment, we can catch our breath.”
Writer Tara Shannon’s Facebook posting reflects how so many of us feel these days. “There’s so much uncertainty” might be the catchphrase. From COVID-19, climate change, social and political unrest, inflation, to job insecurity, losses — all contribute to a sense of uncertainty.
Our brains don’t like uncertainty. Uncertainty is feeling unsure about what will happen, facing several different scenarios — we have to work at figuring out how to prepare for all the different outcomes. Uncertainty causes us to worry, to be anxious.
In short, there’s very little we can be certain about, and that feeds a lot of fear and anxiety.
Fear is an intense response to a danger that is present, while anxiety is a response to a perceived threat about things that might possibly happen.
“We’re wired to worry,” said psychotherapist Margaret Cochran online. “It’s a survival mechanism; our brains haven’t evolved much and we still need to remember where the tiger is more than we need to remember where the blueberries are.”
The uncertainty we’re going through now isn’t a tiger to run from. It goes on, day after day — our brains produce loads of stress chemicals. And that’s bad—stress hormones contribute to high blood pressure, obesity and so much more.
Also, we’re going through a lot of changes. Change, whether it’s good or bad, makes us uncomfortable. The majority of us don’t do well with change. As the pandemic demonstrated, life can change quickly and unpredictably. One day things are fine, the next day, they’re not.
We need to take a moment to catch our breath, as Rabbit suggested.
It’s also important to realize that no matter how helpless and hopeless you feel, there are steps you can take to better deal with these feelings:
Accept the unknown: The best way to handle uncertainty is to try to get comfortable with it. You can’t fix it, so just accept it, handle it.
And you do have to handle it, because things don’t seem to be getting any better soon.
“The only certainty is change,” said Cochran. “To fight it is unproductive. If there’s a big windstorm, trees that bend and flex survive. The trees that don’t bend, crack, fall down and die. We’re the same.”
Accepting it doesn’t mean you approve of it. It just means you’re making an effort to let go of your worries about all the possible outcomes.
You already accept a lot of uncertainty daily. Each time you cross a street, get in a car or eat restaurant food you’re accepting a level of uncertainty. You’re trusting that the traffic will stop, you won’t have an accident and everything you’re eating is safe.
The chances of something bad happening in these circumstances are small. So you accept the risk and move on without requiring certainty.
Identify what your triggers are: Much of our uncertainty is created by external sources, like TV, newspapers, social media and friends, which dramatize and focus on worst-case scenarios. This can fuel our own fears and uncertainties.
Notice when you start to feel worried and fearful about a situation, when you begin to worry about what-ifs or feel like a situation is far worse than it actually is. Take a moment to pause and recognize what started your negative thoughts so you can avoid this source.
When you’re feeling worried and fearful, just focus on the present moment. Focus on your breathing; take slow, deep breaths and clear your mind of the upsetting thoughts. Or do something to break your thinking—go for a walk, make a cup of tea.
Acknowledge that you don’t know what will happen. All you can do is let go and accept the uncertainty as part of life.
Instead, focus on solvable worries, take action on those things that you can control, or simply go back to what you were doing. When your mind wanders back to worrying or the feelings of uncertainty return, refocus your mind on the present moment.
Accepting uncertainty doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan for some of life’s unforeseen circumstances. It’s always good to have some savings put by in case of unexpected expenses or have a plan if you or a loved one falls ill. But you can’t prepare for every possible scenario. Life is simply too random and unpredictable.
Share the burden: Connect with others. Community is so important, as expressed by Shannon:
“I’m afraid of change,” said Rabbit. “I wish I could just hide until things are the way they used to be.”
“I understand,” said Bear. “But change comes whether we want it to or not. It’s better to face it.”
“Remember I’m here with you,” added Bear. You’re not alone.”