How to deal with Uncertainty

The coronavirus pandemic has heightened uncertainty over the economy, employment, relationships, even our physical and mental health. If you are like most people, you crave security and you want to feel safe and have a sense of control over your life and your wellbeing. We continue to feel this way even though life has shown us that change is the only constant. So, what is it that causes dislike for uncertainty?     

Caution and fear ensure survival, our basic primal instinct. This is why our brains react with fear to uncertainty – as a defense mechanism. If the brain cannot figure out what is around the corner, it will struggle to formulate a proper response, and may not protect us from the danger lurking. 

If we fail to deal with uncertainty, we become anxious, stressed and we worry about unknown future outcomes. Waiting for those outcomes may even feel like torture.

What if I contract the coronavirus? What does the instability at work mean for my job? Will my MRI result reveal cancer? Instabilities like these can have a big toll on our physical and mental health. 

Is it just me feeling this way?

People react differently to uncertainty while tolerance levels are also varied for each person. Some people enjoy a life of unpredictability, others are huge risk-takers while some find the monotony of life comforting. Everyone has their limit though, their own acceptable level of uncertainty. 

If you feel overwhelmed and worried at this time, your feelings are valid and you are not the only one feeling this way. Mindset is the key to better cope with uncertainty and foster resilience

There are ways to alleviate the anxiety, distress and many other negative emotions you may be feeling. It is essential to deal with them because the feelings experienced do not just linger in the pit of our stomachs, but they impact how we behave, how we engage with others, even the way we view the world.

Challenge your uncertainty


Be honest with yourself, note and acknowledge the distressing thoughts. Assess your circumstances and challenge assumptions you might be making by considering alternative perspectives and available evidence. Do not forget your past successes, they are a reminder that you have overcome stressful events in the past and survived. 

Be informed

Keep yourself informed of what is happening for good judgment calls while avoiding rumours and faulty information which may further exacerbate worrying and stress. Limit watching the news to once or twice a day and avoid vulnerable times such as when you are about to sleep, as our minds can run amok during this time.    

Focus on what you can control

This will propel you from worrying mode into action mode. Routine can create certainty even in unstable times, offering a sense of purpose and direction. Simple tasks like weekly meal planning or weekly exercise can bring comfort and structure to an otherwise unpredictable period. In some instances, however, all you can do is control your attitude and emotional response.     

Take action through value driven behaviours


Invest in self-care and personal growth. Take care of yourself and make an effort to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep to keep your mind and body healthy. Make time for relaxation, learn a new skill, or consider positive aspects of your life where you can make a difference.

Ask for help

If you are having trouble coping with uncertainty on your own, reach out to a friend or family member for social support. Alternatively, find a counsellor or psychologist who can help you develop healthy ways of coping.  

Our mindset is key in handling disruptions and being able to deal with uncertainty and keeping distress at bay. Let us be reminded that uncertainty does not always bring bad news, there are wonderful unexpected surprises that result during uncertain times. 

Also read: Maintaining Mental Wellbeing

Silindokuhle is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist registered with the HPCSA. She holds a Master’s degree from UKZN and runs an independent practice specialising in psychological assessments, training and wellbeing.  

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