5 ways to live well with uncertainty

Liggy Webb shares her suggestions for coping with stress and anxiety in these unprecedented times

With everything that is going on at the moment are you finding yourself speculating about the future, trying to second guess what is going to happen next? 

You may find yourself catastrophising and filling in the missing gaps of information with worst-case scenarios. By doing this, you’ll cause yourself worry and anxiety about things that haven’t happened yet, and that you don’t have any control over. Uncertainty can also fuel fear, anxiety and paralysis, which will inhibit your ability to thrive in times of flux. 

Your brain is essentially hardwired to react to uncertainty with fear. This brain quirk worked very well for human beings years ago. Cavepeople might have entered an unfamiliar space, not knowing what might be lurking behind the bushes. The overwhelming caution and fear that was triggered ensured our survival. This primeval instinct, which hasn’t evolved, is now a hindrance in the world we’re living in today. Uncertainty is rife, and managing the associated stress that can bring is fundamental to personal wellbeing.

It’s worth acknowledging then that as you face uncertainty – as you inevitably will – your brain could easily push you to overreact. The ability to be able to override this reaction, and move your thinking into a more rational direction, is fundamental in terms of dealing positively and successfully with uncertainty.

There are many ways that you can help yourself to cope with uncertainty and here are five suggestions:

1.Avoid the doom and drama
Uncertainty can create a playground for the doom goblins and drama queens, who perversely enjoy stoking up negativity. They’ll be predicting all sorts of catastrophic scenarios. If you get absorbed in the gossip, scaremongering and toxicity, it will drag you down, drain your valuable energy and make you feel anxious. Balance your exposure to negative media and where possible, remove yourself from environments where this kind of behaviour is rife. You don’t have to listen to it, and you certainly don’t have to be a part of it. That’s entirely your choice.

2.Stay positive
One of the great benefits of positive thinking is that it can help quieten your fears and irrational mind chatter, by focusing your thoughts on something that is more calming. Thoughts are powerful triggers for emotions. For every negative, niggling doubt that you have, on the flip side there will always be a more hopeful alternative. Give your wandering mind a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Create an inspiring sanctuary in your mind by focusing on a happy memory, or a dream for the future that will refocus your attention. 

3.Avoid crystal ball gazing
Sometimes a fertile imagination can be your own worst enemy and you may find yourself getting lost in your own feelings. If you’re not careful you may take out the imaginary crystal ball and start to catastrophise about the future. You cannot predict the future. You can, however, feel less anxious by fostering positive thoughts about the alternative possibilities.

4.Manage your inner control freak 
Let’s face it, most of us like to be in control. However, in some situations you have to put your trust in others’ hands. Currently we are being asked to live in a way that is highly restrictive, and this will challenge your inner control freak! It’s important to bear in mind that if you don’t keep this need to be in control in check, you run the risk of putting yourself under immense stress. Acceptance in this situation is by far the best approach. Use your valuable energy to positively influence your situation, rather than resist it. 

5.Get creative 
Having more opportunities to express your creativity will help you to keep enthusiastic and motivated about possibilities. Creative people also tend to be more optimistic and resilient. A recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicated that engaging in a creative activity just once a day can lead to a more positive state of mind. 

In summary 
Through these unprecedented and uncertain times, it’s important to remember that in any crisis there is opportunity and out of chaos there will be calmer times ahead. Counting your blessings each and every day will help you to focus on what you can be grateful for. Through this very challenging situation we also have an opportunity to be curious. It’s a time to get creative and experiment, to explore, discover, learn and grow.   

About Liggy Webb

Liggy Webb is an award-winning and bestselling author, presenter and international consultant specialising in behavioural skills. She’s recognised as a thought leader on resilience and behavioural agility and works with a wide range of businesses, helping people to be more resilient, agile and healthy in a volatile, uncertain and highly complex world. 

Some of the organisations that Liggy works with include the BBC, the NHS, Macmillan Cancer Support, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. She partners with the Charity Learning Consortium to develop resources for the voluntary sector. 

Her book, Resilience: How To Cope When Everything Around You Keeps Changing, is a practical and accessible guide for coping with change and offers advice on how to recover and flourish through challenging times. The guiding principles in the book have been televised for a series with the BBC world service.


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