COVID continues. Russia Invades the Ukraine. Inflation is high. Financial instability, global warming and institutional racism continue to plague us all. I’m 68 years’ old and I cannot remember a time of such uncertainty. Who can we count on? What is stable and lasting? How much can we predict our lives in the next week/month/year/decade?
Uncertainty occurs when things are in a state of flux and we don’t know what will happen next. The first step toward becoming more comfortable with uncertainty is accepting that – as much as we wish it weren’t true – almost nothing is certain. The world outside of us changes all the time, as does our internal (emotional) world.
On the positive side, learning to be comfortable with uncertainty makes life a lot more fun: instead of living from a rigid, fear-based place where we try (unsuccessfully) to control everyone and everything, we can relax, enjoy what comes our way and be more spontaneous.
How do we get there? Well, it’s a process…and there’s no time like today to begin. Here are some ideas that work for me and my clients:
- Be aware of your breathing: make it slower and deeper. When we’re afraid, our breathing is usually fast and shallow; this increases our stress and anxiety.
- Don’t be a Lone Ranger: in these difficult times, we need to know that we’re not alone and that our reactions to the uncertainty in the world are normal. Many of my clients say things like, “Are other people as scared about the future as I am?” It helps to know we’re not alone.
- Be of service and do something meaningful (however small) for someone in need or less fortunate.
- Drink more water – many of us don’t drink enough water and our bodies end up in a state of mild dehydration that exacerbates our stress and anxiety.
- Explore constructive ways to release your emotions. Sometimes, when I meditate, I find myself gently crying – seemingly, for no conscious reason. I think my subconscious is so frustrated with the world that it needs to let it out. I also find myself more easily angered and annoyed: I’m working with that one by being more physical (e.g., hiking, walking, gardening, swimming, going to the gym and yoga).
- Engage in physical movement: movement is the body’s internal lubricant.
- Find ways to accept the uncertainty in the world right now. Admit that you are powerless to control most of what goes on out there. Do what you can to effect change and then do what you can to find some inner peace.
- Reach out to someone (in-person is ideal) who will listen to you with kindness and emotional availability.
- Remind yourself often of all the good things in your life.
Where does this fear of uncertainty come from? It’s the pain of anticipated loss and change. We’re comfortable with our routines and possessions, the people we know and places that are familiar. We worry about the possible loss of our comfortable, dependable life. So, we resist any changes that uncertainty might bring. However, it isn’t the change itself that’s the problem – it’s fighting and fearing change that makes us anxious and scared.
But what if we could become so comfortable with change so that we didn’t fear it? You can see this in people who we call “adventurous”: these men and women welcome new experiences, because they know they’ll be fine, and that life can be more amazing than it is now.
As I’m becoming more comfortable with uncertainty, I don’t fear life’s changes (as much). I’m getting better at taking on new challenges (e.g., considering retirement) and creating new things (e.g., writing my first fiction book) that I would’ve been afraid of in the past. When I’m face-to-face with a great, big piece of uncertainty in my life – be it COVID or a difficult neighbor – I’m learning to handle it with a lot less fear, anger and/or resistance.
As all of us grow more comfortable with uncertainty, we can respond instead of react to life’s never-ending challenges, and experience the deep security of knowing that – no matter what the world throws at us – we’ll be fine.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBTQ clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.