5 ways to cope with uncertainty when your world changes

It’s normal to feel anxious and fearful when you don’t know what’s around the corner. These simple habits can reduce anxious thoughts and give you a sense of perspective.

When I wrote my blog last month welcoming the arrival of Spring I could never have imagined what would arrive with it this year. A global pandemic that is testing the world to the limit.

Safety and certainty are core human needs, and when these are threatened it can cause us to worry and panic, as we try to cling to what’s familiar and find a way to control and predict our way to safety.

Every minute of every day we are being exposed to a barrage of global media coverage. From shocking pictures coming from our hospitals, frightening statistics about infections, deaths and the impact on the economy, to uplifting tales of community spirit, innovation and acts of courage.

We know our world has been changed forever. And as with any crisis, change is inevitable, for better or worse. We just don’t know how things will turn out. And we don’t like not knowing.

So why do we struggle so much with uncertainty?

Most of you will be familiar with the term fight or flight. It’s our inbuilt automatic response to perceived threat designed to protect us.

Human brains are wired to link uncertainty to fear. Being fearful triggers our flight or fight responses, and then our mind and body is thrown into survival mode. Fear is in response to a real threat occurring in the present moment. Anxiety is anticipation of something that might happen in the future. The thing is our brain doesn’t know the difference so triggers our stress responses regardless.

We also use past experiences to predict the future. This is so we can maximise our chance of a successful outcome and minimise the chance of a negative outcome. Now who here has lived through a global pandemic before? Where’s our past reference points? How do we make good decisions? How do we protect our status quo?

On some level, we all know there is no certainty in life. The truth is we get used to our life as it is.

So how can we deal with uncertainty and look after our mental wellbeing? Here are 5 simple things you can start doing today.

Focus on what you can control

You can control your thoughts. At the simplest level - your thoughts dictate your feelings, which drive your actions. So if you are constantly feeding your brain with negative information, frightening media coverage, criticizing yourself for not being a perfect parent/partner/friend, and generally being unkind to yourself, you’re going to feel anxious and stressed and then you’re going to descend into fight or flight.

Become your own cheerleader. What can you say to yourself to make yourself feel good? What are you doing well? How have you adapted? If you were supporting your friend what would you say to them? Then say these things to yourself.

You can control how you spend your time, when you go to sleep, what you eat. Having a more positive internal dialogue will lead to better choices and a better frame of mind.