Uncertainty and worry are all around us right now. Matt is worried about the fate of his job. Joanne is worried about her health and her parents’ health. Edwin is worried about how cultural and societal tensions are impacting his loved ones. Celeste is worried that she doesn’t have the stamina to keep enduring the stress, anxiety, and fear that feels never-ending.
The fear of uncertainty is caused by circumstances we cannot control or predict that result in us feeling unsafe in some respect, such as physically, emotionally, or financially. The underlying fear is that non-discretionary change is coming – it’s not our choice – and that is particularly frightening.
Uncertainty is typically linked to an involuntary risk, because it exists regardless of our actions to invite it or accept it. It is difficult to acknowledge and accept the reality of involuntary risks, which leads to denial, resistance, and searching for answers. Although, similarly, the most effective way to cope with uncertainty and involuntary risks is through internal resources, not external solutions.
Situations that are uncertain incite fear and stress for two primary reasons. First, uncertainty destabilizes our faith in what we believe is happening and the projected outcome. This leads to two very critical questions: (1) is everything going to turn out okay? (2) how is this going to change my life? When we are concerned that we will not be okay, or that life will change in undesirable ways, fear spikes and it is difficult to assuage.
Second, the reasons these critical questions come up is because uncertainty disrupts whatever plan, impression, or projection what we thought was our future. When the future becomes cloudy and uncertain, we lose our sense of direction and where we want to go.
Worrying about whether we will be okay and feeling unsure about to future or direction magnifies fear and compounds stress. It’s this one-two punch of fear and stress that makes prolonged uncertainty (like we are experiencing now) overwhelming.
In order to demystify uncertainty and counteract the fear and stress, we must address those two triggers. The fear of safety and whether life will change in undesirable ways can be minimize through action, acceptance, and non-attachment.
Action involves taking steps to eliminate the risks we see that are within our control. For example, Matt is worried about his job, and while he cannot control the economy or even his firm, he can control what skills he has and how he uses is existing financial resources. Similarly, Joanne can take enhanced precautions regarding her health and advise her parents to do the same.
Acceptance involves consulting our internal resilience and resolve to declare that we will be okay. Regardless of whatever circumstances develop around us, we will find a way to continue to pursue the life we want. For example, Edwin can resolve that regardless of escalating tensions, he will continue to embrace his values and peace in support of his loved ones. Matt can also tap into his acceptance and resolve to dial down the fear of losing his job.
Non-attachment involves an awareness that the circumstances around us and ahead of us are always changing, and our ability to carry on cannot be too dependent on what we believe should be the ultimate outcome. For example, it is not helpful for Celeste to begin focusing on year-end, thinking everything will be fine and back to normal once this is over; an attachment to that expectation could result in even more stress and agony for her should it not turn out to be true. Instead, Celeste could practice non-attachment by simply acknowledging that the current circumstances will not continue indefinitely; there will be change, and if she can continue to persist through the challenges of today, she will be able to persist regardless of what changes come.
As for the disruption and fog of uncertainty that disorients us, that can be lifted by refocusing our vision on a new future state of ourselves – not the circumstances. When we orient ourselves to a place in the future, it’s very difficult to eventually arrive at that place since we do not control the environment we seek. Instead, when we establish a focal point of who we will be in the future, it is more realistic and likely that we can control our ability to arrive there. For example, instead of Celeste looking ahead and imagining a future state for her circumstances as the solution for her anxiety and stress, she can create an image of the woman she wants to be in the future which she can influence. She can envision a woman with resolve, flexibility, and patience, and then take steps to increase those attributes, and by doing this, she will decrease the negative effects of the uncertainty on her mental and emotional health, essentially arriving at the future state she wants.
The uncertainty that many of us are currently experiencing is undeniably extreme and scary, in that it affects all the critical areas of our lives. Our ability to effectively manage our internal resolve will be the deciding factor how we get through this time. Embracing circumstances, having the self-awareness and courage to ask “what does this situation need of me, and how can I adapt,” and feeling empowered to make those choices as we move ahead will help remove the fear and defog the uncertainty.