It was the 13th of March, 2020. My 43rd birthday, and the day the world as we knew it changed forever. The students were informed that they would be absent for two weeks. With the coronavirus epidemic, those “two weeks” evolved into nearly two years of uncertainty.
Our senses were perked up. The degree of stress was at an all-time high. Fear had the upper hand. And what’s one of the most important contributors? The ambiguity of it all.
Uncertainty about health, employment, if the kids would return to school, what the mandates would entail, how we would subsist, where we would live, whether we should travel, what this would mean for our jobs, income, and family, and, of course, whether we should wash our hands.
Why Is Uncertainty So Stressful?
“Uncertainty equals danger. If your brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it can’t keep you out of harm’s way. When certainty is questioned, your lizard brain goes haywire, instantly kicking you in the pants to spur you to action and get you to safety.” 
In fifth grade, my twins and I went on a school vacation to Catalina Island. One of them had recently become ill, while the other was wearing an arm brace.
I was scared the entire time, wondering if they would be able to sleep, eat, and if they would miss home… What if something terrible occurred? I was stressed for three days, only for them to return home and tell me about the best trip they’d ever taken.
My worry rapidly turned to relief, but the uncertainty and terror I felt while they were gone were tangible. Even if it feels that way, just because something is uncertain does not indicate we are in danger. As a result, the issue becomes: what are some practical ways to deal with uncertainty?
How to Cope With Uncertainty?
Some of us are more at ease in circumstances where there is uncertainty or ambiguity, while others become worried and overwhelmed.
Here are 11 strategies to provide you PEACE OF MIND, whether you’re struggling with worry about the pandemic, the economy, your own and loved ones’ health, finances, relationships, profession, or family.
To get perspective, take a step back from all of your anxieties and fears. Always keep in mind that things are never as horrible as you imagine. That story you’ve concocted in your head is unlikely to come true. Here are some ideas for gaining perspective.
Examine your problem from the perspective of a third party. Assume you’re watching a reality program about your life on television. What tips or insights would you provide to yourself?
When you take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, you’re more likely to come up with ideas or solutions you hadn’t considered before.
You can also get perspective by focusing on what matters to you and what your values are. My 10-year-old daughter had a friend over when I was writing this essay.
I was discussing with them how they handle uncertainty. “I used to be unsure if people loved me,” her buddy said after a few moments of consideration. I’d be concerned and worried about it all of the time. Then it occurred to me that I enjoy myself.
And if I like myself, I’m hoping they do as well. And if they don’t like me, I’m not sure I’d want to be friends with them anyway.”
She is clearly a young lady with a lot of perspectives. Take the time to figure out what’s most important to you. When things become uncertain, you may cling to the important things, and the rest will be less stressful.
You can also get perspective by examining your own personal beliefs. Everything occurs for a reason, and everything happens for our greatest good, is one of my most cherished beliefs.
Even if I am oblivious to it at the moment. When I’ve been faced with uncertainty, this belief has been one of the most important sources of comfort.
Bring it up from the depths. When you let what is happening on an unconscious level to emerge to the surface, you gain power. When you’re afraid of uncertainty, you may not even realize what you’re afraid of.
Doctor and author Dan Siegel invented the phrase “name it to tame it” to describe what happens in your brain when you use the “thinking or rational” half of your brain to calm the “emotional or limbic” part.
“Affect labeling” (putting feelings into words) reduces the amygdala’s (brain area primarily responsible for emotional processes) response, lowering emotional reactivity.
Simply put, writing, talking, journaling, or expressing how you feel reduces the power of your emotions over you. This may necessitate some investigation.
For example, you might be hesitant to apply for a new job. Why are you doing this? You could say it’s because you’re not sure if it’ll pay enough. But don’t take the initial response; look into it more.
What else can you think of? You can discover that you’re more worried about whether or not you can do the job than with the money. Don’t stop there; inquire once more.
What else is there to say? Perhaps you’ve lost some confidence and don’t feel ready to take on a new challenge. Ask again…and again…until you get the actual answer – the deepest concern.
Then, and only then, can you feel better, as you know what’s really going on and can face it head-on.
Acceptance is not the same as surrendering and feeling defeated. It’s all about accepting and accepting the reality of your situation. You can move on from wishing things were different and deal with what is directly in front of you once you understand that things are uncertain.
For example, during this pandemic, I have three daughters who are in school. The rules at school are always changing.
I’m frequently left wondering if they’ll be at school next week, what might change, or if someone in the class will acquire Covid and the rest of the class will be sent home to resume distance learning.
I was wasting a lot of time and energy fretting about the unknown. I’ve finally accepted it as part of our new normal.
I’m aware that things will change. I’m aware that things could go wrong. But, rather than obsessing over it, I’ve decided to move on with our lives until more information becomes available.
According to one study, knowing that you have a slight probability of receiving an unpleasant electric shock causes substantially more worry than knowing you would be shocked.
The subjects with a 50% probability of receiving a shock were the most stressed, while those with 0% and 100% possibilities were the least stressed.  So, if you fully understand that things are unclear, you might feel more at ease in that location.
My father has always informed my siblings and me that the difference between happiness and sadness is determined by our expectations.
When you anticipate things to be certain, predictable, and stable, you’ll be disappointed every time they aren’t. You won’t be as stressed if you expect things to be unpredictable and change frequently.
That’s right, you read that correctly. Make the worst-case scenario a reality. Sometimes your imagination conjures up all sorts of bizarre scenarios that could go wrong.
The majority of these things will never happen or will never be possible. However, you’ll feel more at ease if you play out the worst-case situation and figure out how you’d handle it.
Consider whether you have the resources, abilities, and support you’ll need to deal with the situation. Who might be able to assist you? We reside in southern California, where earthquakes, fires, and other natural disasters might strike at any time.
It’s a good idea to be prepared. You can handle anything if you can handle the worst-case situation.
Ask yourself if the worst-case scenario is feasible (could happen, but not likely), plausible (could likely happen), or probable as you play it out (very likely to happen).
The majority of your concerns are most likely in the potential group. You can bring yourself back into the rational portion of your brain by asking yourself what the chances are of this actually happening.
It’s time to turn the switch after you’ve catastrophized. It’s time to put the BEST-case scenario into action. Jenn Perell, a life coach, refers to this activity as “Opposite Outrageous,” in which you imagine the very best things that may happen.
So, if you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ll never be able to do this presentation,” think again. I’m not ready for this. I’m not sure what kind of questions they’ll ask me. I’m going to embarrass myself.
I might potentially lose my job.” “I’m going to ace this presentation,” you can persuade yourself instead. I’m all set. I’m going to be able to confidently respond to any question.
In fact, I’m sure they’ll offer me a raise!” Why have absurdly negative attitudes about events when we may have absurdly positive ones?
E: Examine Your Level of Control
There are things you can control and things you can’t control in every situation. However, we are frequently so preoccupied with external, uncontrollable forces that we believe everything is beyond of our control. However, there is a lot you can do.
For example, if you’re having trouble with your partner and are worried about what may happen to your relationship, concentrate on what you already know to be true in other areas of your life. You have a steady source of income.
You enjoy what you do. You have a fantastic support system in place. So far, you’ve made it through every one of your bad days and break-ups.
Concentrate on what you already know to be true. Concentrate on what hasn’t changed. Concentrate on the things that are certain.
Controlling your emotions, feelings, and attitude is often a part of this. Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, which has my favorite remark on the subject.
“Everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
If Frankl can find something to control when faced with those treacherous and unfathomable circumstances so far out of his control, so can we.
O: Open Up
Discuss your anxieties, worries, hopes, and dreams with someone. A shared difficulty is a problem halved.
According to studies, merely talking about our difficulties and sharing our bad emotions with someone we trust can be extremely healing, reducing stress, improving our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional suffering. 
Many people are unwilling to contribute because they do not want to burden others. I understand, but I’d like to ask you a question.
What would you think if your best friend, lover, or child was suffering in silence and didn’t want to burden you by telling you? What’s my guess? You’d like them to share. Take a chance on it.
Not only will you feel better, but it will bring you closer. Don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to? Find a good therapist, coach, or talk to your doctor.
F: Focus on the Present
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” — Lao Tzu
Be. Present. Now. Find a method to be present at the moment.
Perhaps you’re concerned about the safety of someone you care about. Be glad for what you have right now with them. Take the time to tell them how much you care. Say exactly what you want.
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to spend time together. You will feel more at ease in the face of uncertainty if you can be grateful and focus on the present moment.
You knew it was going to happen, right? Meditation can assist your nervous system shift from a sympathetic (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state (rest and digest state). This relaxes your body and makes you feel more secure and at ease.
You don’t want to meditate? Try walking barefoot on the earth, the beach, or the grass to ground yourself.
Still not persuaded? Simply take a few deep breaths. By providing oxygen to your muscles and brain, deep breathing improves circulation. It produces a tranquil state of mind and quiets the mind.
When you first started reading this text, what happened to you? Do you remember to take a deep breath? You should be feeling a lot better now.
I: Initiate Action
Sitting in a state of apprehension simply makes things worse. You never know what will happen until you take action and see what happens next.
You lose confidence when you’re on the verge of doing something, waiting, wondering, and fretting if you’ll be able to do it. Your concerns start to take hold, and you start to doubt yourself.
However, taking a leap of faith, jumping in, and getting started instantly boosts your confidence. You test the limits of your abilities. You discover that you are capable of completing the task.
Action breeds trust and each step you take strengthens it. The human brain is remarkable in that once it recognizes that something is working, it will maintain that momentum.
Yes, it is scary to move forward, especially into the unknown, but your activities will conquer fear and build confidence and strength. When you act, focus on the first step you can take.
Ask a question if you’re unsure about something. I’ve dealt with thousands of people as a leadership and team development consultant that has to deal with ambiguity and a lack of clarity.
This is frequently due to a firm reorganization, a new leader, mergers and acquisitions, or just a lack of knowledge.
When I was leading a session, one of the attendees expressed concern that he didn’t have all of the information he required to complete a project. He was perplexed as to why he hadn’t received it and expressed his frustration at having to work without it.
“Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize you needed it; I have it; why didn’t you simply ask for it?” said a woman across the table.
That thing about which he was so unsure? An hour later, he had it.
I’m now working with a company that is through a merger. There is a great deal of uncertainty, and individuals are worried about their jobs, professions, and families. To help in the process, leadership hosted a town hall meeting where team members may ask any questions they had.
Yes, do they still have doubts? Is it possible to have a little more clarity and information? Always. Perhaps you might ask a simple question to clear up some – or all – of your doubts.
Simply make your choice. There will never be enough knowledge to make you feel completely confident or prepared. There will always be a degree of unpredictability to contend with. Decide to go ahead and do it anyway.
For years, a good buddy of mine had wanted to visit Hawaii. Her husband works in the film industry and has a very erratic schedule. They put off organizing a trip because they don’t know whether he’ll be available and don’t want to schedule it “just in case” he’s required at the last minute.
What’s more, guess what? It’s been ten years. Is it true that they went to Hawaii? No. Could they have been forced to cancel a trip?
Probably. Could they, however, have gone on a life-changing vacation somewhere along the way? Yes, I’m going to guess.
You have the option of allowing the ambiguity to deter you, or you may push through it and make a decision anyway. My stepmother and father, for example, are planning a trip to Israel later this year.
Will they be able to cope with the situation? Who knows what will happen! But they weren’t going to let it deter them from attending. Instead, they planned it, purchased insurance, and will make adjustments as needed.
What have you been putting off because you’re afraid something bad would happen? What decisions can you make, go forward with, and amend if necessary?
Peace Of Mind
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution in life. Some periods of uncertainty are more unpleasant, frightening, or overpowering than others, and different tactics will work better in different situations.
Applying for a new job or fretting about a big presentation isn’t the same as wondering if you’ll find a lifemate, moving across the country, or waiting for the results of a medical diagnosis.
Determine which of these tactics feels the most comfortable to you and give it a shot! They are only effective if you use them.
- Psychology Today: Why Uncertainty Freaks You Out
3. Science Daily: Uncertainty can cause more stress than inevitable pain
4. Psychology Today: Why Talking About Our Problems Makes Us Feel Better