Dealing with Uncertainty

There are many times in life when things are uncertain. This can be particularly pronounced during periods of transition. The one that most readily springs to mind for me is the transition that most of us go through as we finish up our university study and move on to new, (hopefully) greener, pastures.

Uncertainty, and the anxiety it produces, is one of the downsides of human’s advanced sense of consciousness. Studies show that in other animals, uncertainty can lead to higher levels of vigilance (as it can in humans), but that humans’ ability to predict the future and reflect on the very notion of uncertainty enhances feelings of anxiety. In fact, we dread uncertainty so much that studies have found that humans would choose to definitely receive a painful electric shock immediately, rather than live with the possibility of receiving one in the near future.

We can’t rid our lives of uncertainty, so how can we prevent life’s inevitable unpredictability from sending our tummies turning and our hearts racing? As I have said before in other blog entries, I am not a doctor, nor am I training to be, but I have a lot of lived experience with anxiety and am generally terrible (but getting better!) at dealing with uncertainty, so here are a few things I have learnt.

Mindfulness / Distraction

I find ‘mindfulness’ practice in the form of meditation and ‘clearing your mind’, etc., very difficult and so have somewhat given up on that, but one thing that does work for me is forcing myself to focus on one thing and one thing alone. Usually I do this by reading. It is hard, not impossible, but hard to run a detailed internal monologue of worry while reading a book or article, so this is my go-to to try to slow my brain down.

The 5-Step Checklist for Anxiety

The most useful thing I ever learned from a psychologist was what she called the ‘5-step anxiety checklist’. Basically, when you are feeling anxious about something, particularly something uncertain, ask yourself these five basic questions: 1. What is the best-case scenario, 2. What is the worst-case scenario, 3. Rationally, what is the likelihood of the best-case scenario occurring, 4. Rationally, what is the likelihood of the worst-case scenario occurring, and 5. Could you survive if the worst case scenario came true? I always find question 5 works to put things in perspective and allows me to think clearer to prepare (both emotionally and tangibly) for worst-case outcomes.

Give these a go and try to remember that uncertainty is also a good thing. Life would be pretty dull without it.

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