From Doubt to Confidence

Managing your mental health when coping with uncertainty

Anxious older lady at laptop
We've all had that experience at a point in our life. It is a scary place to find yourself in, and it can leave you feeling hopeless, out of control, and helpless. Though everyone varies in how much of life's uncertainty we can endure, there exist some situations that even the most risk-tolerant among us finds challenging.

As humans, we love predictability and a sense of order; chaos and the random nature of life can be quite scary.  It can be much harder to bear when we have had expectations of a certain ongoing structure that we rely on, such as employment or health, and then we get thrown a “curveball” that plunges us into an emotional abyss.

When you find yourself living with uncertainty and feel like you have been drained of some of life’s power, how do you cope?  How do you manage yourself and your mental health when faced with uncertainty on an ongoing basis?  

Some people have learned in their darkest days that early in the morning, before they are fully awake they can become aware of the next best step to take. Others force themselves to sit quietly and still for 15 minutes a day and bring their most pressing problem to the silence. While waiting for an answer, the most practical solution often reveals itself. The trick is to be comfortable living one day at a time, and one next best step at a time. Connecting with your inner wisdom when your mind is quiet can reassure you that the answers to impossible problems will eventually appear.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

Here are some more tools that others have used in uncertain times that helped them to “get through” and build their resilience in the process.

1)  Give yourself extra support

Some personality types cope better than others.  Some individuals can live one day at a time, knowing that you get a new portion of strength each day to cope with that day’s trials.  Others like to prepare and plan as much as possible, of all the possible outcomes that they may need to face.  Many people become anxious because they are unsure how to respond to a challenging situation and they are not moving forward in any direction to solve it.

Your response is your own response and it is more helpful to be extra-supportive rather than judgmental of yourself when going through difficult times. 

2)  Practice meditation

It has been proven by research that meditation can be of enormous benefit to individuals coping with anxiety and depression as a result of uncertainty.

The genuine advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it gives you some distance between you and your automatic emotional reactions and thoughts.  Putting even a 15 minute practice in place, preferably in the morning, will provide your mind with the perfect space to settle, which will eventually reduce your anxiety. See: https://reinventingcareers.com/mind-and-body/mindful-meditation/

There has been a growing use of coloring pencils and coloring books for adults as a way to reduce stress and practice mindfulness while being busy.  Others use knitting or the card game solitaire to calm and distract their mind.

3) Use exercise

After an antelope runs from a lion and manages to survive, it will spend some period shaking to discharge the physical tension and disperse the energy brought on by its adrenaline. Several animals release tension via this method, but we humans don’t have a built-in response for dispersing the stress we carry.  Exercise can function for we humans in much the same way that the need to tremble functions for an antelope.

Walking, yoga, tai chi, sport and weight training are all ideal for dispersing anxiety when faced with stress and uncertainties.  Many a successful businessperson has championed taking a long walk in nature to clear their head of their problems and identify what to do next.

Obtaining proper physical exercise can also help us to sleep better, which is important to clear our heads and be our best selves.

4) Make a decision on how you will respond

When living with uncertainty, we can feel like the power to steer our lives has been snatched away from us.

Feeling powerless is not good for us.  Sometimes, the only thing we own control over is how to choose to react.   Our first emotions, when confronted with an ongoing situation, are likely to throw us in a turmoil, but we don’t have to stay there.  You can aim to live alongside an undesirable element in your life without it taking over all your mental and emotional space. 

Ask yourself what you need and what you can do to help yourself through this.  What conversations will you have with others about this?  Is there anyone you can discuss the situation with who may be able to give you some perspective or practical suggestions.  Reach out if it will help you.

5) Control what you can

It can be helpful to create extra structure in our lives to help balance the structure that is now missing.

Focus on the things you can control, even if it’s as basic as planning weekly meals, laying out your clothes the night before, or adding ten minutes of daily exercise.  Establish routines to provide your days and weeks with some comforting structure.  This will help keep your mind occupied and anxiety at bay.

6) Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control

When people get faced with uncertainty, it can be easy to imagine worse-case-scenarios.  Too much of this can be quite detrimental to your mental health.   The negative voice in your head which comes from our primal lizard brain cannot see the future and doesn’t have any practical wisdom to share.  When you get fed an onslaught of worse-case scenarios, stop it as soon as possible and say to it “Thank you for sharing.  I am the adult in the room and this will get handled in the right time and in the right way”. 

Your body is a biochemical machine. If you are constantly feeding it intense emotions of alarm and outrage, your body can start to crave the body chemicals these emotional reactions produce. This means we are drawn to news or online content that cause us to feel these emotions on an ongoing basis. Do you really want to train your mind/body to have such a negative “default” mindset? Distract yourself instead, rather than engaging in the negative mind/body loop. This will yield better results in problem-solving, creativity, strength and happiness.

Get out of the habit of dwelling on negative events and have processes in place to distract your mind.  Cultivate gratitude for any areas of your life that are working well.  Tony Robbins says that you can’t feel fear while practicing gratitude.  Make it a daily habit.
See: https://reinventingcareers.com/mind-and-body/the-gift-of-gratitude/

7) Stay in the moment

Choose to live in short time compartments.  If there is a lot of chaos in your life, live in 5 minute time periods.  Avoid thinking too much of anything that involves you beyond this time.  Find something practical to do that needs doing and do it.  Tidy a room or an area of a room.  Make a list of outstanding tasks and do one or two each day or each week.  Find some way to feel productive that gives you a sense of accomplishment.

It is also very helpful for your mental health to add some creative activity in your life.  The mind likes to be absorbed in something.  Do a puzzle, follow a recipe, plant something in your garden.  Find an outlet that resonates with you and add it to your weekly schedule.

8)  Have faith in your resilience

When feeling negative, it is quite easy to forget the difficult situations you have handled before and you most likely have had several big challenges you were able to overcome in the past.

Don’t forget or minimize that you have come through difficulties before, and actually, if the worst happens you would probably be able to cope.  The idea of considering the worst-case scenario, so that you can strategize on how to handle it, has helped some Individuals manage anxiety and feel more in control.

9)  Get support

When plagued with difficulties like uncertainties, it can affect your mental well-being and force you into a state of loneliness.  The truth is that everyone goes through this suffering and it is an aspect of the human condition. What you are going through has been experienced by other people.  Reaching out to others for assistance can be helpful.  It can boost your morale and enhance your mental health.

Look for friends who have gone through some really hard times, who have been through major difficulties and kept going.  Talk to them about how they coped mentally with what they were facing and what mindset worked best for them.

You can also choose to seek out a professional – life coaches or career coaches can be helpful in exploring new options and defining new strategies, while giving you the support to make changes when changes need to be made. 

Even books by life coaches can be useful. In his book The Fifteen Percent, author Terry Giles says that reacting to life’s horrendous experiences doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people can assess for themselves that bad things happen to everybody and they are not going to let their past experiences poison their present or future. That doesn’t make sense to them. If you need help in reframing your experiences, this can be an enlightening book.

If you are not sleeping, make this a priority to solve.  You may find relief by massaging your feet at night to relax your nervous system. Give extra attention to the soles of your feet as all of your body’s nerve endings end there. Using a moisturizer or oil makes it easier. Others have found sprinkling an essential oil such as lavender on their pillow at night works for them. Do see your doctor for medication if insomnia persists, or if you are concerned you may be getting depressed.

10) Look forward to the best

Some people try to spare themselves disappointment by considering ways in which things could go wrong. However, research in cognitive behavioral therapy explains that usually, individuals tend to exaggerate the risks and the negative consequences that may result from a certain situation. That leads to anxiety, or worse – it sets us up for failure.  Sending yourself in the wrong direction by compulsively worrying about negative outcomes can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, try envisioning a better scenario and outcome.  Spend some time mulling over the results and outcomes that you want that would feel best to you.  Be proactive and get in touch with your emotions and feel calm, satisfied and happy with the results you have imagined, however and whenever they occur.   This is what many high-achievers do to forecast the results they are aiming for.

This strategy will make you feel more positive about having a destination that feels good to you, even if you can’t see it yet.  You’ll feel clearer and calmer about your present state, which will assist you with decisionmaking and enhance your odds of success.