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Top Tips for Dealing With Uncertainty

The old cliché tells us that the only certainties in life are birth, death and taxes. That itself means there’s one more certainty: uncertainty. We deal with it on a daily, hourly, minutely basis. We are so used to dealing with it and making decisions based on our best guesses that we only notice it in the big moments. “Will I pass these exams?” “Will my relationship end?” “Will I develop a serious illness?” “Will a person I love die?”

There are two real problems when it comes to dealing with uncertainty:

  1. When the big uncertainties dominate our lives – whether because those big things are a genuine imminent risk or because we can’t stop thinking they might be
  2. When many small uncertainties dominate our lives – because either (or both) our personality and mindset lead us to over think and over worry and over react, focusing too much on the things that are not in our control

Neither of those situations is healthy or pleasant, although completely natural. Both those situations will interfere with our ability to live full and fulfilling lives, making the most of our skills and dreams and hopes.

Yet uncertainty is the human condition. Our brains allow us to doubt, to hope, to predict, to guess, to dream and to fear. We want certainty, but our intelligence denies it to us.

But uncertainty, being so normal and inevitable, must not be allowed to spoil our lives. And sometimes it feels as though it does. We are not evolved to withstand too much focus on uncertainty: we are evolved to manage it without over-thinking, but sometimes we just do over think, over worry and over react.

We need ways to cope with uncertainty

It’s very rare – and I can’t think when it last happened – that I come across an article that is so spot on that I just want to send you to read it. But I have! But when you have read it, please come back here because I have something to add. The article is A Psychologist’s Tips For Coping With Uncertainty by psychologist Niamh Delmar.

Meanwhile, while you read it, here is a photo of some produce from my garden last summer. Gardening is a fascinating mix of certainty (something will grow and be beautiful and tasty; some caterpillars, pigeons and slugs will eat some of it) and uncertainty (I don’t know exactly what will grow and be beautiful and tasty and what will be eaten by caterpillars etc.) But this year I will grasp that nettle of uncertainty (including literally) and sow and plant and thin and water, full of hope. Indeed, one strategy is to sow and plant far too much, which is a brilliant way of mitigating the uncertainty and producing a new certainty: over production.

 

 

Have you read it?

What can I add?

First, I’ll give a practical suggestion for how to action each of the tips given by the author.

NoticingPick three times a day to notice how you’re feeling. Maybe while you’re having your morning cuppa, when you start back to work/school after lunch and when you’re getting ready for bed. From this you can get a sense of whether this is an anxious day or not so bad.

ThoughtsYou can push negative thoughts away, either to address later or not to address at all. I have a few recurring negative thoughts about myself and when I see them coming I’ve learnt to say “go away” and, crucially, to insert a more useful or pleasant thought.

Emotions – Emotions are useful signposts for our body as well as our mind. When we feel sad, our body feels heavy and slow. When we feel happy, we feel lighter and more nimble. But you can create the emotions you want. If you smile, even if you don’t feel you want to, you will feel happier. If you think about something joyful, funny, exciting, celebratory, you’ll create those emotions and those emotions in turn will change your body. Your brain, after all, is in your body! And your body is reflected in your brain.

ControlPick three things you can control today and focus on them more than other things. Maybe you’ll go for a run or walk; have a bath; get a task done; meet a friend; put your phone away for a couple of hours. You choose! But remember to notice, acknowledge and praise.

Mindfulness practice – I’ll admit this doesn’t work for me so if it doesn’t work for you, let’s not bother! But what really is important – as the article says – is to find opportunities during the day to be in “flow”: engaged deeply on one task. It could be homework, a piece of writing, a hobby, doing something intricate with your hands, drawing – anything you want and that will engage your mind. Caution: your phone/devices do need to be off, though, because otherwise you could too easily be interrupted by a notification  or piece of information. that breaks the flow.

Exposure – if you’ve noticed that you’re feeling anxious or negative, censor where your mind is taken. Choose not to read negative or sad stories; just read or listen to the news once a day; avoid people who catastrophise.

(Not daphne but lilac – almost as gorgeous smell!)

Joy – This is a simple one but what will you choose? And it’s a lot easier when you’re already feeling positive so be sure that the more anxious or negative you feel the more effort you make to seek out joy. What will you do TODAY? I’m going to go out into my (very windy!) garden and smell the daphne flowers. Seriously, such a gorgeous smell and it fills my garden from early Feb through to May. And I don’t even need to do anything to it – that’s joy!

Acceptance – Say to yourself, “I can’t do anything about … … … and that’s hard but I can deal with it because I’m resilient and I have good things to be grateful for.” And then think of three “good things.”

 

My BEST tip for dealing with uncertainty: look at the CERTAINTIES in your life

Here are ten I can think of. Can you think of more?

  1. You will get better at everything you try hard at
  2. If you thank someone, you will make them and you feel good
  3. If you praise someone, you will make them and you feel good
  4. If you make a good choice, you will feel proud of yourself – and if that was a difficult choice you will feel even prouder
  5. If you enter a competition, you have a chance of winning
  6. If you do a kind act, you will benefit
  7. If you look after your physical health, your mental health will benefit
  8. If you look after your mental health, your physical health will benefit
  9. Big emotions reduce – how you feel about something now is not how you’ll feel about it later
  10. Some years, months, weeks, days, hours will be better than others

These are not “positive thoughts” – though they are that, too – they are complete certainties.

So, life may be full of uncertainty but it’s not full of uncertainty. There’s massive of space for certainty.

Which will you let dominate your life?


My products to help parents help young people with anxiety are available HERE:

  • Boosting Teenage Resilience – a huge value set of resources built around a video of me giving a full-length talk plus a copy of the Powerpoint; includes lots of extra resources, printable sheets etc
  • A personally signed copy of my latest book, BE RESILIENT, with postcards, posters and and inspiring, reassuring, affirming message to the person you care about. (And if you wanted to buy two books, the one I’d pair it with is Positively Teenage.)

Subscribers to my website have a 10% discount code – if you haven’t got yours, ask me for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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