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How to Deal With Uncertainty - 8 Tips for Coping

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

If you feel anxious when facing uncertainty in your life, you are not alone. A perceived loss of control can lead to feeling sad, worried, stressed, and powerless. But, no matter how helpless you may feel, there are coping mechanisms to better deal with uncertainty and decrease your anxiety. Here are 8 tips that you can try out:

1. Practice self-compassion

It can be easy to compare how you react to these uncertain times with other people in your life. People have different reactions to the stress of unknowns. And some people are better at coping with change and uncertainty than others. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling more shaken or impacted.

Self-compassion is a skill that can be learned and strengthened. To foster self-compassion, ask yourself these questions:[1]

  • Am I being kind and understanding to myself?

  • Do I acknowledge shortcomings and failures as experiences shared by everyone?

  • Am I keeping my negative thoughts and emotions in perspective?

2. Focus on what you can control

No matter what situation you are in, usually there are still some things that you can control. It might be helpful to pause and write down a list of things that you can do.

When you focus on things that you can do, you are actively problem-solving instead of aimlessly worrying and feel more in control.

3. Be present

A sure way to avoid worrying about the uncertain future is to fully focus on the present. Don’t try to predict what may happen, and don’t let yourself think of everything that could go wrong. Instead, connect to and appreciate the present moment. What do you see and hear around you?  

You can learn to focus on the present moment by practicing mindfulness.

If you feel especially anxious, you can try this grounding technique to get back to the present situation. Take a few deep breaths and say out loud:

  • 5 things you can see

  • 4 things you can feel (your feet against the floor etc.)

  • 3 things you can hear

  • 2 things you can smell

  • 1 thing you can taste (you can leave your spot to find something to savour)

4. Take time for self-care

You can better deal with what life throws at you when you consistently manage your stress and anxiety levels. Self-care is always important, but now it is essential.  

  • Exercise - try to move a little bit every day.

  • Get enough sleep.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid sugary and processed foods.

  • Spend time outdoors.

  • Do activities you enjoy and help you relax.

5. Eliminate your triggers

Do you know what your triggers are? Are you able to avoid or reduce those triggers, so that you can worry less?  

6. Reflect on your coping strategies and your need for certainty

We can never control absolutely everything. Unexpected events are a part of life. No matter how much we plan and prepare, in reality, anything could happen.

Unexpected turns aren’t always a bad thing. Good things can happen out of the blue, too. Have you ever met a new friend or a partner unexpectedly? Have you stumbled upon a memorable experience when you least expected it? 

Even unexpected, negative life events can have something positive. They can build your resiliency and help you grow as a person.

You can answer these questions to challenge your need for certainty and reflect on the coping mechanisms that you already use to deal with uncertainty.  

  • What are some good things about uncertainty?

  • Did things turn out fine even though you were not absolutely certain about what would happen?

  • If things did not turn out okay, what did you do to cope?

  • Can you use those coping strategies again?

7. Learn to tolerate uncertainty

If you feel ready, you can try to build your tolerance for uncertainty slowly. Start with something that gives you just a little bit of anxiety.

For example, you always bring a thorough list when you go grocery shopping. If the thought of going without a list gives you just a little bit of anxiety, you can challenge yourself to go shopping without a list. Afterward, reflect on your experience.

  • How did you feel?

  • What happened, did everything turn out fine?

  • What did you do if things didn’t go as you expected?

When you keep practicing, you may, in time, notice that things that once caused you anxiety have become much easier to handle, and your tolerance for the unexpected has grown.

8. Do not hesitate to seek professional help

We all feel anxious from time to time – especially now. If anxiety is more than just a passing feeling for you, our mental health therapists can help to identify coping mechanisms for you.

[1] Neff K.D., Dahm K.A. (2015) Self-Compassion: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Relates to Mindfulness. In: Ostafin B., Robinson M., Meier B. (eds) Handbook of Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. Springer, New York, NY.


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