Dr. Meagan Stanley
Dealing with Uncertainty
Understanding our mind’s craving for answers and tips for how to manage the stress and anxiety caused by uncertainty.
Now more than ever, we are facing many uncertainties—about our personal lives and about the global state of affairs. It is my belief that to be able to not just survive but thrive, we must come to terms with the fact we do not have control over many aspects of our lives. With abrupt and significant changes to the status quo recently, we all have had to face head-on that we might not know what could be around the next corner. I guarantee that a year ago, none of us could have fully prepared or planned for what our last 6 months have presented.
Our minds crave answers and solutions. This is one of the functions of our very evolved and very powerful brains—the ability to anticipate potential obstacles, make decisions, execute plans and figure out how to overcome challenges. And answers give us, even for just a short period of time, a sense of control and security. I don’t blame the mind for kicking into this survival mode during this time—there is a lot to anticipate these days and everyone is looking for ways to take a sigh of relief. However, this constant searching to know what comes next often leads to stress and anxiety.
What if we can’t find an answer? With the disruption that has occurred in our world, we are now dealing with novel problems that likely do not have exact solutions or answers. When our minds don’t know an answer, so often fear sets in. It is in our nature to react in a number of ways when faced with fear—we may be more harsh with our partner, more impatient with our kids, mad at ourselves, resentful, frustrated, etc. These reactions of the ego-mind wreak havoc and destruction on our relationships and our internal states.
One illusion of the mind is that we believe if we know what is going to happen, we will be more prepared to handle it. Or sometimes we entertain the worst-case scenario and allow our minds to tell us how we might deal (or not deal with it) if that possibility became a reality. However, by listening to what our minds tell us we can and can’t do, we are unable to see other possibilities. By listening to our thoughts, we enter a place of not trusting that our own instincts, reserved resources, and the support of loved ones that can and will arise when we face crisis.
Some tips for better handling uncertain situations:
1. Monitor judgment of what certain outcomes would mean
2. Notice extreme, limited thinking, such as “if this happened, I would certainly never get through it.”
3. Remind yourself that whatever comes up, you will have the strength and ability to overcome and/or will find the right support to help you
4. Be aware that thinking about the future does not change the outcome, and only steals peace from this moment
5. Continue to trust that you have faced difficult obstacles in that past, and just like before, you will find a way to make it through
These are helpful reminders for ourselves, and to share with our children, who often worry most about things out of their control.