On a daily basis, many of us experience overwhelm and fear of uncertainty. Now, more than ever, there is much to be uncertain about. In addition, during a global pandemic, the news triggers our fight or flight response. Hence, we worry about our families and ourselves. As a result, we try to control our environment to find peace. What do we do to create this sense of calm? How can we act normal when it feels as if the world is suspended in space waiting to drop? How do we live with uncertainty?
The Gift of Uncertainty
There is a great metaphor that when we feel out of control and uncertain, it is like we are a jar of muddy water. The more we thrash around and panic, we kick up the mud and dirt around us. Furthermore, we cloud the water so that we cannot see through. However, when we remain still, the mud settles to the bottom and allows us to see again. In his book, The Way of Zen, Alan Watts writes:
“Furthermore, as muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, it could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.”
When we are feeling out of control, one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and those around us is stillness. Whether we meditate, read, sit quietly with a cup of tea, take a bath, or go for a walk outside, we settle. When we allow ourselves to get in touch with our being and let our thoughts and feelings calm, we instantly feel better. Though the “mud” is still there, we will see more clearly.
How to Manage Uncertainty
Sometimes when we panic with uncertainty, thoughts swirl around, specifically, around whatever we fear. Most times, we either come from two base human emotions–love or fear. When we can practice self-awareness, we can move through the fear. Here are some tips for managing uncertainty.
Find stillness. Take time to get still and write out or express to a trusted friend what exactly we fear in the face of uncertainty can bring us great relief.
Observe your thoughts. We do not fear the unknown, we fear what we project into the unknown. When sorting out our worries- get specific! Turn “I’m scared” into “I’m scared that I won’t be able to pay my mortgage.” Breaking down the fears can help us digest them. When we do this, we can see where we have fear and where we don’t, instead of blanketing our entire life with “I’M FREAKING OUT!” Perhaps we are worried about our finances, but things with our partner or family are actually amazing. Getting still and sifting through our thoughts may seem simple to some and extremely difficult for others.
Be kind. Self-compassion is key. Do what you can. There is no need to beat yourself up if you can’t meditate for more than five seconds or if yoga just does not work for your body, find what does work for you. Gift yourself moments of calm self-care in whatever way feels most pleasing to you.
Get professional support. It’s OK to ask for help. We all need guidance now and again. Perhaps therapy would help gain perspective? And therapy can work wonders for anxiety and stress.
Ultimately, how do we embrace uncertainty? Here comes the answer you didn’t want to hear: embrace it. Life is uncertain. Life is ever-changing and in constant motion. The flowers grow, bloom, wilt, seed, and grow again. And so do we. When we allow this radical acceptance to overtake our fear of uncertainty it can seem much more manageable. Oftentimes, the thought “this should not be happening” is what causes us the most grief. If life is like a river, constantly flowing and changing, it doesn’t make much sense to turn your boat around and futilely fight upstream. Rather than thrashing about wasting energy fighting the notion of uncertainty, once we accept it, we can direct our energy much more productively. What could be the positive aspects of this situation? Maybe you have more time with your family, perhaps you are growing in knowledge and resilience on a daily basis without even knowing it (probably very true), perhaps you are honing the art of pivoting in the face of the unexpected. Spending time reflecting on the positive aspects of a situation that makes us feel uncertain can bring us great peace of mind to move forward. We can turn our fear into curiosity. If we can fantasize about the worst-case scenario, we can fantasize about the best case scenario, what we would like to happen, what we would love to change.
The Future is Always Uncertain
Overall, uncertainty is a fact of life. The future is always unknown. Given this, it is important to remember that you are never alone. Every person faces uncertainty at points in their life and we are all trying to figure out this human experience. Sometimes it is the illusion that we are alone in such uncertainty that brings us pain. Rest upon the truth that what you are experiencing is normal. What’s more, thousands of humans have gone through similar before you. You are not alone.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, we are here.