Uncertainty in and of itself can be a tremendous stressor. We naturally want to know what to anticipate so we can make necessary adjustments in order to feel more secure in the present. However, when we are unable to gather accurate or incomplete information or something is out of our control and constantly changing, it naturally heightens our stress response, we feel more on alert.
Anxiousness accompanies uncertainty. Uncertainty and anxiety live in the future. The more our thought life is out in the future, the more we will find our anxiety is heightened.
We may find times where we feel lost in the uncertainty. Times of ruminating thoughts, increased irritability and agitation, restless nights, decreased self-care, and mood fluctuations are all signals that we need to interrupt the uncertainty with intentional coping skills.
Skills that can help with uncertainty and anxiety center around practicing exercises that help us to be more in the present moment. The importance of creating daily routines and self-care are equally important in times of uncertainty. Here are a few options you may find to be helpful:
- Slow Relaxation Deep Breathing. This helps with cooling the primal brain and engaging our thinking, rational brain. It is extremely helpful with calming our thoughts and when we are only focused on our breathing, it is difficult to be thinking of anything else. It won’t change the circumstances, but it can help so we think more clearly.The way I like to teach this skill is the “3×3 method”, 3 rounds of 3 slow deep breaths. In between each round, gauge your level of calmness. First round: take normal breath, but do it as slowly as you can on the inhale and the exhale. Second round: This time take a slow breath filling up your lungs only halfway, pause, and then slowly exhale. Third round: Slowly inhale, this time filling up your lungs all the way, pause briefly at the top and then slowly exhale.
- Mindfulness. “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.” As a practice, living mindfully can take years to develop. However, our 5 senses are a great place to begin. As an exercise, begin by choosing one of your 5 senses. Take 60 seconds and concentrate on everything you are experiencing through that one sense and describe it in great detail, either out loud or by writing it down.
- Arts/crafts/hobby. Finding a positive activity or project helps to focus or attention on what right in front of us. It doesn’t have to cost much money and even be free when we get creative. Paint a picture, garden, play/learn an instrument, write a story, clean up the yard. These types of activities follow a natural progression where you cannot go to the next step or phase until the one you are working on is complete. Setting aside a certain amount of time each day on an activity you love will bring with a sense of being “recharged”.
- Create a plan for the day. Structure helps with anticipating what is next. Prolonged uncertainty can erode structure and planning. Developing a daily plan helps with letting go of what is next, because we can anticipate it and let it go. This allows us to be more focused on the task at hand.
- Gratitude. Uncertainty can pull our thoughts into speculation and worst-case scenarios. However, we can challenge these types of thoughts with what is certain in our life at the present moment. Gratitude has a way of shifting our thoughts and heart away from what may or may not be, and into what is certainly good in my life right now. Try saying this question out loud, “What am I thankful for right now?” and speak out what comes to your mind.
- Prayer. Praying helps us to redirect our mind, will, and emotions away from circumstances and our limited understanding and sets them on the source of love. Prayer is really the act of having a conversation with God. In a conversation, it’s as important to listen as it is to share. Consider, 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
While these are not the only ways to address uncertainty, they can be options to begin to engage and develop new coping skills. One way to begin with addressing uncertainty is to choose one of the above skills and try it out for 5 minutes. Journal how you felt before and after. Reflect on it. Add on, or adjust, as you see fit and continue to grow the application of these skills.
Adjusting to uncertainty takes effort and support. However, it is not insurmountable and does not have to rule over our lives. If you are finding that uncertainty and any accompanying anxiety or mood disruption is causing you distress, please reach out to myself or one of our wonderful counselors. We are here to support you during these uncertain times.