Uncertainty always exists. But lately, it seems so much more present. There are so many questions about COVID and climate change, the general state of the world and the security of our families. Combine these large scale unknowns with the smaller, more everyday questions that we all must deal with and it’s no stretch to say that a general feeling of uncertainty is the new norm.
We humans have a strong desire for predictability and control — or, more aptly, the sense that we are in control. It only makes sense that it’s hard for us to handle such looming confusion and uneasiness. But it’s important to find healthy ways to cope so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.
So how should you deal with uncertainty? Rather, what are some useful tactics to keep in mind? We spoke to eleven therapists, all of whom shared what they do when they’re faced with uncertainty in their lives. Not all of them are right for you. But there might be one or two measures here to look to when you’re grappling with uncertainty.. Here’s what they told us.
1. I Find My “Sit Spot”
“Presence, in general, is a foundation of my self-care and shifts me out of ruminating over the past or anticipated future. Whenever possible, I stop for a minute or two and bring my attention to something nearby. I have a regular practice called ‘sit-spot.’ It is simply sitting outdoors for 10-20 minutes – in the same location – every day, and becoming fully present with everything around me. I engage my senses, taking in near and distant sounds, noticing the plants and animals, looking for the beauty and the contrasts, and touching the grass or the bark of a tree. This really brings me into the present moment, rather than projecting into an unpredictable future.” — Rev. Connie L. Habash, LMFT, 55, California
2. I Fight a “Boss Battle”
“When life throws challenges of uncertainty at me, I look at it as a boss battle: a chance to level up and gain new skills. I have a whole set of mindset shifts that I call The Invisible Game, and the first rule is ‘play the game, don’t let it play you.’ So uncertainty, instead of being cause for stress, anxiety, or depression, is actually what makes the game challenging and interesting. And when you cultivate this creative can-do attitude, you’re much better at actually solving problems and overcoming challenges.” — Misha Tuesday, Hypnotherapist, 50, Detroit
3. I Focus on “Breath, Body, Mind”
“Uncertainty is a part of life, but it can be uncomfortable to sit with because it causes anxiety. As the anxiety heightens, so, too does the uncertainty. When I feel uncertain, I practice the Breath, Body, Mind technique. It’s a breathing exercise rooted in behavioral science, and one that I use with my patients. Essentially, I relax my entire body with deep and controlled breathing so that my mind will quiet down. Then I shake my body, bouncing up and down gently while I’m sitting on a chair or a bed. This helps to rid me of anxious energy and slow myself down, lessening my feelings of uncertainty and discomfort.” — Mindy Utay JD, LSCW, New York
4. I “Smell the Pizza”
“If my brain is trying to convince me that things are going to be awful, I spend a few minutes looking for proof that things turn out really well, like arguing the opposite. This technique helps me realize that although the worst case scenario is one possibility, it’s not the only possibility. To do this, I practice ‘smelling the pizza.’ It’s an exercise I often teach kids but it works well for adults too. I take a breath through my nose like I’m smelling a piece of pizza. Then, I breathe out through my mouth like I’m cooling the pizza off. Doing this a few times calms my brain and my body when I’m faced with a stressful situation and helps me feel mentally strong in the face of more uncertainty.” — Amy Morin, Psychotherapist, 42, Marathon, FL
5. I Recall What I’ve Been Through
“In addition to relying on family/community support, I remind myself that I have been through uncertain difficult times before. I then consciously start to recall details of all the good things that in the end came out of going through that time. In other words, what life and God provided to me in those uncertain times, without any effort on my part. I remind myself that this time is no different than the other difficult times, therefore I have faith and conviction that all will work out for my good. Sometimes the hardest yet the most effective thing to do is to surrender to the situation and know that things will work out in the end.” — Parisa Ghanbari, psychotherapist, 33, Toronto, Canada
6. I Do Yoga
“Uncertainty is a part of being human. One year, uncertainty can be not knowing what a family member will say to you when you see them on a holiday. The next year, uncertainty is dealing with your spouse’s new medical diagnosis. I like to do yoga, meditation and listen to yoga nidra guided recordings to deal with uncertainties in my life. Yoga and meditation allow me to deal with things outside of my control in a healthy and relaxed way. I see a lot of people deal with uncertainty in an aggressive way, and I prefer to calm my mind and feel emotionally centered when I’m afraid or uncertain. I feel more in tune with myself and can deal with stressors in a more effective way.” — Katie Ziskind, LMFT, 29, Connecticut
7. I Accept Help and Support
“I’m a control freak. And like most men, I assume I don’t need help with anything. Just give me a bit of Gorilla Glue, time, and a YouTube video and I’ll take care of it. But the truth is, almost nothing in my life has worked like that. I didn’t invent the glue, someone from YouTube was teaching me, and I didn’t really do any of it alone. When I stop to realize that it’s okay to do my best regardless of the outcome, I let go of the expectation that I have to know exactly what to do at all times. As men, we often carry the burden of providing and protecting our families. I don’t want uncertainty when it comes to those things. So when I ask my wife to support my struggles and speak with friends when I need help, I’m better able to work through all of the uncertainty that comes my way.” – Rodney Long, Jr., MSSA, LISW, 31, Ohio
8. I Take Mini Vacations
“Anxiety has a purpose, it helps us avoid potential harm. When I can put it to use, I do. Maybe my anxiety is telling me that I need to get work done, or go have a difficult conversation with my partner, or schedule that dentist appointment I’ve been putting off. But just like with anyone else, sometimes my anxiety is just that: anxiety. There’s a difference between acting on my anxiety and just sitting in it paralyzed. When I notice that my anxiety is not being put to good use, I give myself a ‘vacation’ instead. I’m talking about free, short breaks. I’ll say to myself, ‘This can’t be solved right now no matter how much you think about it.’ Then I go outside, or take a bath, or cuddle with my partner. It’s a break from my source of stress knowing that I can pick it back up and worry about it when the time is right, and when I can actually do something about it.” — Tom Parsons, MSW, LSWAIC, 26, Washington
9. I ‘Prime’ Myself
“I use the strategy of priming, which is a way to train the brain. We can actively train our brains to think and focus on what we want. In essence, we show our brain the direction we want it to go. One easy example of priming is when we are planning to buy a car. Once you decide which car you will buy, you begin seeing that car everywhere. It isn’t because people suddenly bought that same model. The reason you are seeing that model car everywhere you go is because you told your brain to focus on it and your brain cooperated. For me, I want to focus on the goodness in others. I remind myself that people are good, and my brain responds by noticing examples to support this perspective. I’ve told my brain what I want it to look for, and now it will, especially if I actively practice this technique. Priming then creates the foundation for what I feel and how I respond to uncertain situations in my life.” — Dr. Robin Buckley, 50, New Hampshire
10. I Use My Five Senses
“The past year and a half has tested me more as a therapist, business owner and parent than ever before. So much upheaval and uncertainty has left my clients and myself feeling uneasy. I remind myself that, although many factors in a particular situation may not be controllable, there are pieces that I can control. One of those is my environment. I feel the most grounded when I’m outside in nature. I will get outside on trail and tune into my five senses such as the smell of fallen leaves and fresh air, the sound of water in the stream or birds chirping, the touch of a cool rock I find on the ground or an acorn that I’ll throw, the sight of the beautiful colors of leaves on the trees, and the taste of my water after feeling parched. Doing this thought exercise helps one feel more grounded, less anxious and respite from the shaky feeling of uncertainty.” — Stephanie Donofrio, LMFT, 45, Connecticut
11. I Free-Write
“The main thing I do to deal with uncertainty is to free-write.I open up an untitled notes document on my phone or laptop, and write about the problem until I get somewhere, making sure that my fingers are constantly typing even if I don’t know what to say. This writing is for me alone, so it doesn’t matter how messy, ungrammatical, or disjointed it is. Free-writing in this way is all about fluidity of thought and it really helps me to power through mental blocks and solve problems. So many times I am writing in circles and then, out of nowhere, the answer comes.” — John Mathews, LCSW, 36, Midlothian, Virginia.