How to Deal With Uncertainty in Life, Love, and Career

stress and upset mom sitting on the couch with kids playing in the background

Whether changing careers, navigating relationship difficulties, health concerns or even just moving through your regular life, uncertainty is part of being human. Our brains and bodies crave familiarity, routine, and control so that uncertainty can lead to stress and anxiety. You may even find yourself constantly spinning through what-if thoughts that emotionally and mentally drain you.

Everyone has a limit to how much uncertainty they can handle. Some people are happy living life as digital nomads, while others need predictability of homes and nine to five jobs. If you’re the type who craves routine and order, too much uncertainty can raise stress levels. This blog will explore why uncertainty causes stress and how to navigate uncertain times without losing sight of your goals.

Why is Uncertainty So Stressful?

You don’t know what will happen when you quit your job to start your own business. You don’t know how your sweetheart will respond when you ask for more affection from them. During the coronavirus pandemic, you didn’t know when we’d return to “normal” or if you’d catch covid. Those uncertainty examples are very different but have one thing in common – incomplete information. Your brain constantly takes in information, assesses it, and decides how you should respond. When you’re living with uncertainty, there isn’t enough information for your brain to complete this process.

stress woman with her head in her hands in front of the computer and sun shining through

Some people can shrug and move on with daily life amidst uncertainty. For some, the brain starts filling in the information gaps (that’s where the what-ifs come from), causing stress, worry, and anxiety. When your brain spends all that energy trying to solve the uncertainty, it can be challenging to remember your to-do list, complete the report for work, or truly connect with your partner.

For those with intolerance of uncertainty, the body responds as it would to any perceived threat. feelings of uncertainty can mimic the fight or flight response. The problem is that you can’t run from or fight uncertainty – you can only move through it. Your brain and body get stuck in the fight or flight cycle, which can cause anxiety symptoms if you can’t figure out how to deal with uncertain situations.

Uncertainty and Your Decision-Making Process?

Often uncertainty proceeds a big decision. Should we apply for the promotion, move in with our sweetie, try for a baby, or go back to school? Making decisions that could change your life involves a tremendous amount of uncertainty, but even small choices such as where to spend your vacation require a bit of faith that you’ll enjoy your trip. If you have trouble dealing with the complicated emotions associated with times of uncertainty, you may find decision-making difficult.

Uncertainty may affect your ability to make decisions if you experience the following:

  • Ruminating on all the possible adverse outcomes of a decision.
  • Stress levels cause your mental health to suffer.
  • Difficulty with basic functionalities when faced with uncertainty (i.e., you can’t seem to make it through simple daily tasks, do essential self-care, or stay engaged at work).
  • Experiencing symptoms of burnout, including fatigue and trouble concentrating.
  • Turn to numbing behaviors such as substance use, excessive exercise, or other behaviors that help you avoid making decisions.

Learning to handle unexpected events or unpredictability can improve your life, reduce stress levels, and help you navigate life changes while taking care of your well-being.

Tips for Getting More Comfortable With Uncertainty

You may never get to a point where you become a constant risk-taker and embrace uncertainty as a motivating force, and you don’t have to. However, recognizing that uncertainty is part of life and learning to manage your negative thoughts and negative emotions about it can help you stay engaged in life and reduce your stress. Here are some tips for managing your anxiety about unpredictable life events.

Differentiate Between Things You Can Control and Things You Can’t

letter blocks spelling out wellness and stress

Suppose you’re feeling uncertain because of a life-changing medical situation. In that case, you may not be able to control everything, but you can manage your stress levels, be proactive about seeking treatment, and reach out for support. If you’re ending a relationship, you can’t control what the other person does or says, but you can control how you behave and how well you take care of your physical health.

Identifying what aspects of a situation are in your control and which things aren’t can help you feel like you’re taking steps to move through uncertainty while keeping your brain from filling in the “what-ifs” that are likely to keep you awake at night.

Learn to Stop Ruminating on Negative Thoughts

No matter how good you are at focusing on the parts of a problem you can solve, you’re still going to find negative thoughts trying to intrude from time to time. You’ll need to develop strategies for catching the negativity spiral before it gets out of hand. When you notice your brain focusing on “what-if” thoughts that trigger negative emotions, try this:

  • Identify the negative thoughts.
  • Say it is allowed.
  • Question your negative thoughts: is this definitely going to happen? What information do you have that says this is going to happen? What are some positive things that might happen?
  • Refocus your energy. Read a book, go for a walk, or spend time with friends.

Practice Mindfulness

notepad and pencil next to computer

Mindfulness combats anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and other mental health concerns. Mindfulness is the act of consciously focusing your mind on your current surroundings and activities instead of letting your mind wander. If you struggle with anxiety about uncertainty, a wandering mind is often the first step to a negative thought spiral that raises your heart rate and sends your body into fight or flight.

To begin practicing mindfulness, start with deep breaths, and focus only on your inhales and exhales. You can also look into a guided meditation, meditative walking, and even just practice keeping your attention on your everyday tasks by narrating them in your mind.

Mindfulness can also help you handle the negative emotions associated with uncertainty. Too often, we try to stifle or run from negative emotions instead of treating them as what they are – information. When we ignore our feelings, they become more powerful and threaten to take over. Rather than fight your emotions, name them, and observe how they feel in your body. Don’t judge yourself for having negative emotions -feeling afraid is not wrong or bad. Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings and focused on how they feel in your body, try deep breathing or moving your body until those sensations dissipate.

Engage in Stress-Reduction Behaviors

Uncertainty isn’t a problem, but it’s part of life. The stress amid uncertainty is the troublesome part. It’s easy for rumination to spiral into unhealthy stress levels that affect your wellbeing. Focusing on basic stress-reduction techniques can help keep uncertainty from derailing your life. Try these tips for stress management:

woman in front of a sunset arms spread out two thumbs up

Exercise helps your body manage stress because it allows you to move through emotions. It’s also a great way to focus your brain on the activity in front of you instead of all that worry.

Enjoy meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises as a daily practice. Even three minutes of targeting meditation can stop your body’s fight or flight response.

Get enough sleep. Take time to unwind in the evening before bed by reading, watching a favorite show, or spending time with loved ones.

Fuel your body with healthy meals. Giving your body the nutrients it needs each day can help stabilize energy levels, improving your ability to manage emotions.

Get Help Learning to Deal with Uncertainty

Sometimes our reactions to uncertainty are so ingrained that it’s difficult or impossible to rewire those circuits without help. Working with a therapist might be exactly the help you need. Our therapists at SMPsychotherapy help clients navigate life changes, learn to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, and let go of the things they cannot control. Reach out today to schedule an appointment and start your journey to less stress and more joy.

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