If you feel worried, stressed and fearful about everything going on right now in your immediate world, it’s completely normal.
Uncertainty is all around us, never more so than today.
When we are not sure about how things will pan out, our minds begin to quickly play out potential scenarios or ‘worst case’ situations — which can bring about anxiety, stress and insomnia.
“Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and they try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center.
The bad news is uncertainty is non-negotiable — it’s the human condition we can’t live without. Uncertainty is unsettling. Regardless of the size, obstacles exist and are inevitable. Call it Murphy’s Law or just the nature of life.
But constant worrying and panic won’t stop a crisis from happening, but it will only waste your time and energy.
Given what’s happening around the world today, it’s safe to say that we are experiencing one of the most uncertain times in history. But if you dwell on it and keep feeding your brain with events and everything that can go terribly wrong, things can get pretty bad for your mental health.
Always remember this: the changes that are happening are out of our control. You can only prepare yourself to deal with it in a way that doesn’t put your mental health at risk.
Many people can’t cope — they are struggling to keep moving.
“If you are constantly aware and preparing for uncertainty and potential bad events, and thus are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, you build up a chronic stress pattern and make yourself more prone to fear and anxiety,” says Rebecca Sinclair, Ph.D., a psychologist.
A psychological concept known as ‘hindsight bias’ says that we tend to create the illusion that everything in our past was certain. But in reality, uncertainty has always been around us.
Build your tolerance
Charles R. Swindoll, an evangelical Christian pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher once said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it”.
In uncertain times, you can do more than “cope”. You can demand more of yourself to thrive in spite of everything you feel or see around you.
What we can do right now is control how we respond to unpredictability, as well as shift our attention to the present moment and take things one day at a time. The importance of switching your focus to smaller, daily tasks you can control cannot be stressed enough.
As difficult as it may be, establishing routines to give your days and weeks some comforting structure is the one thing you strive to. Don’t let worry or stress derail your daily routines and general health.
You navigated uncertainty in your life, relationships and career before the pandemic — acknowledging that despite what you came across in the past, you still overcame them and went about your life can build your tolerance for more significant uncertainties.
Setbacks will happen, the only question is: How will you react when they come? The uncomfortable truth in life is that you can’t control every event, experience, or outcome.
The best thing you can do is to focus on what you can control — even when the only thing they can control is your effort, mindset and attitude.
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher of 1st and early 2nd centuries C.E., and an exponent of Stoicism (a form of psychological discipline), classified things as being under our control or not under our control. His classic Enchiridion (The Good Life Handbook) starts with this basic idea of control;
“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.”
That powerful statement is also the same sentiment expressed by the 20th century Christian Serenity Prayer; God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. Reinhold Nieburh came up with that prayer around 1934. The basic idea of focusing on the actions and experiences within your control has been around for a while.
Make a commitment to take charge of everything within your control and be intentional or mindful about not worrying about the things you can’t.
“By reclaiming your energy, all day every day, from your sphere of concern (the range of things that appeal to your emotions) to your sphere of influence (the range of things you can affect) you are continually developing the essential Stoic skill of taking your lumps as they come, with minimal fuss and tantrum,” explains David Cain of Raptitude.
Life is full of uncertainties, not just a pandemic. While many things remain outside your control, your mindset is key to coping when times are hard and difficult. Don’t believe everything you think — make concrete daily plans and focus on habits that bring out the best in you.
This post was previously published on Personal Growth.
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