How to cope with uncertainty
In these difficult times, how can we navigate the fear and anxiety that come alongside uncertainty? Creative scientist Katherine Templar Lewis shares her tips
Over the last two years, it feels like the world has had a crash course in uncertainty. We’ve lived day to day, not knowing how our lives would look the next week, month, or even year. And just when it feels as though the vision of our future is coming back into focus, more world events turn it upside down.
The difficult reality is that no vision of the future is clear. Uncertainty will always cloud our view, whether globally or personally. Coming to terms with this truth isn’t always easy and, for many, uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear.
The reason behind this is down to human evolution. “Our brain has evolved to try and keep us safe and it does this by trying hard to predict what will happen next,” creative scientist Katherine Templar Lewis explains.
“This was fine thousands of years ago when our world was small and the most changing element was the weather but, in the modern super connected man-made world, change is everywhere and our brain struggles to know how to predict what will happen.
“Realising this, it sounds the fear alarm, trying to be hypervigilant and focusing our attention on how unsafe the unknown might be, and the possible threats out there. Left unchecked this alarm feels like a real fear that overwhelms and leads to avoidant decisions, safety behaviours and negativity bias, which distorts our thinking. Meaning we often don’t feel in control enough to focus on the possibility that also lies in the unknown.”
Alongside author Sam Conniff, Katherine co-presents The Uncertainty Experts, an interactive documentary series proven to reduce uncertainty. I watched the series last year and what I took away was that coping with uncertainty is largely about self-awareness and reframing.
Talking about how we can change our view of uncertainty, Katherine encourages us to notice our reactions.
“Firstly, we can learn to recognise and acknowledge fear and then the avoidant behaviours it often unconsciously leads to. This means we can stop them and have more choice in our reactions – in short, we don’t let fear get the better of us.
“Over time, we can literally rewire our brain so that we focus on the possible opportunities rather than suggested negative outcomes, to be more balanced in our thinking and less reactive in our responses. Learning instead to use uncertainty as a moment to update our thinking and head towards new goals and outcomes.”
The only constant in life is change – this is something of a mantra I remind myself of when I’m struggling to balance my thinking around uncertainty. This means, even when things feel tough, I know it won’t last because change always comes. And there’s a sense of liberation there.
Of course, this can all feel much easier said than done. When it comes to the practical tools to cope with uncertainty, Katherine shares her top tips.
Get to know what fear feels like in your body
What triggers it? Consciously acknowledging it gives you more opportunity to master it. Fear is a suggestion, not necessarily a fact. Learning techniques like gratitude and simple breathing helps you gain control.
Use uncertainty to learn
In uncertainty, your brain becomes more absorbent. Try not to shut down but instead open up, seek new ideas, people that violate your stereotypes… It's a great opportunity to learn and grow.
We know that you can change and increase your tolerance to uncertainty, allowing you to turn it from anxiety into a place of opportunity. But it takes practice and can be more anxiety-inducing to start. So, start with small uncertainties to literally grow your uncertainty muscle!
We are always stronger together. Admitting doubt and anxiety in uncertainty is not just human, it allows others to do the same. We have greater resilience when we work as a team or community.
The vision of your future may be cloudy right now, but perhaps we don’t always need to see the destination to enjoy the journey. Keep focusing on the next step forward and you’ll get where you need to go.
If you’re struggling to cope with anxiety or low mood, support is available. Visit Counselling Directory to connect with a therapist today.