Life is constantly dynamic and changing, making it difficult to feel in control — and easy to feel anxious and stressed. Job insecurity, relationship dynamics, health curveballs and costs, unexpected expenses, environmental disasters, political climate … these are all reasons that contribute to feelings of uncertainty.
It’s only natural to feel stress in the face of uncertainty. According to neuroscientist Dean Burnett, “in an evolutionary sense, the brain doesn’t like uncertainty. Anything uncertain is potentially a threat.”
While removing uncertainty entirely from our lives might sound attractive, no one is immune to uncertain and changing conditions. It is simply impossible to control the external world to ensure static, habitual, planned perfection. However some people are quite resilient to change, moving with the flow of life and accepting the curveballs that are presented, while others are inclined to meet change and uncertainty with resistance, causing anxiety, stress, and an overall negative attitude.
The good news is: if you’re less tolerant to the unknown and changing conditions of life, there are ways to build your capacity to manage the stress of uncertainty. In other words, you can learn to meet uncertainty with greater ease and resilience. Here are nine strategies to try…
1. Ground Yourself with Routines
Creating routines in your day can be the antidote to uncertainty. They provide stable anchors in your day that change and uncertainty often take away. Try to create big and small activities in your day and week that are consistent, for example:
- Exercise at the same time every day
- Go to bed at the same time each night
- Commit to a weekly yoga class
- Do your laundry and chores at the same time each week
- Make the bed every morning
- Feed and walk the dog at the same times each day
2. Take Care of Yourself
Practicing self-care is more important during times of uncertainty than ever. When you feel healthy and strong in your body, your mind is more apt to reflect a healthy and strong state as well. If you get sick, it’ll leave you less equipped to handle the stress of the changing tides.
Sometimes stressful times can disrupt healthy habits. Sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night, eating a balanced diet, exercising, and meditating are all ways you can take care of yourself and put yourself in the best position possible to manage uncertainty. You can also incorporate healthy self-care practices into routines, killing two birds with one stone.
3. Practice Self-compassion
Understand that it’s going to take time to build your capacity and tolerance for stress, change, and uncertainty – and it’s difficult! So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t ace it right away. Be patient with yourself as you learn, grow, and build this competency within yourself. It won’t help you at all if you are criticizing yourself in the process of self-improvement.
If you’re still struggling with this one (it can be very difficult!), imagine a close friend or loved one is sitting in front of you suffering from the very change or uncertainty challenge that you are facing. What would be your advice to your friend? What words of wisdom and compassion do you have for him or her? Then, apply your own advice to your own life.
4. Meditate Every Day
Meditation can improve your capacity to respond to uncertainty and change. A consistent meditation practice will help you de-condition your reactions and habitual activity – i.e. reacting to uncertainty with anxiety, fear, and dread – and increase your capacity to manage the uncertainty with greater ease. Creating a state of mindfulness and inclining your mind to pause before letting it spin out of control is a natural extension of meditation.
5. Believe You Can
As you consider how tolerable or intolerable you might be of change and uncertainty, reflect on moments in the past where you’ve overcome similar stressful occasions. What did you do during that stressful time that helped you? What did you do that didn’t work? How can you use what you learned from that experience and apply it to present and future times of uncertainty?
Recognize that you have some data from this reflection – in other words, proof that you have what it takes to overcome what you’re going through.
6. Know You’re Not Alone
You are not the only one who has trouble moving through uncertainty. This challenge is part of being human. Simply remembering that you are not alone in this challenge, and knowing that many many many others feel out of control and anxious when they face uncertainty, and no one is immune to it, can make a huge difference.
7. Focus on What You CAN Control
If you are a self-proclaimed control freak, accepting change and uncertainty can be particularly difficult. Try to fill your need for control in ways that are within our control, like choosing what to make for dinner, which workout class to attend, and other simple decisions. This also goes back to #1: Establish Routines. Routines give your life structure that you can actually control, to which your control-freak tendencies will be pleased.
8. See Change as Opportunity
The brain may interpret uncertainty as stressful, but that doesn’t mean it actually IS stressful. In fact, there are many ways in which the uncertain and changing conditions may actually help you.
One of my all-time favorite quotes rings true on this theme:
“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” ~Rumi
To embrace this approach, as yourself “What if this was actually good for me?” Then consider what that could look like in your life.
9. Anticipate Change and Have a Plan
Since you know change is constant, have a plan to handle it before it runs your life. Have a list of friends and family you can call to help you cope with uncertainty and change when it comes and commit to maintaining your routines, healthy habits, and a positive attitude. Just knowing that you have a plan to cope can help you build your tolerance and capacity to manage feelings of uncertainty – even if you don’t actually need the plan.
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you loved this article, join the monthly newsletter — featuring tips and reflections on leadership development and stress management in the modern world. Join the 5,000+ leaders who have it delivered straight to their inbox each month.
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you’re an executive, leader, or entrepreneur, you’ll love Melissa’s monthly newsletters.
As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.