How do I continue to move forward when I don’t know what will happen next?
This is a question many of us have asked ourselves this year. With a global health crisis bringing the world to a near stand-still, many people are struggling to maintain forward momentum in their lives during these unpredictable times. Coping with life’s uncertainties causes stress and anxiety, and with so much uncertainty in the air right now, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed.
But you’re not alone. Check out these findings from a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association:
More than a third of Americans say that unexpected expenses are a source of stress related to money.
Nearly a third of Americans say economic uncertainty is a source of stress when thinking about the economy.
When it comes to health-related issues, around two-thirds of Americans cite uncertainty about the future as a source of stress. Additionally, a similar proportion is stressed about possible healthcare policy changes.
Research also shows that people have different reactions to uncertainty. Those with a lower tolerance for it are typically less resilient, more prone to negative feelings, and are more likely to have anxiety.
Furthermore, in a recent study, a Caltech neuroeconomist studied subjects’ brains as they were forced to make increasingly uncertain bets. The results showed that the less information the subjects had to go on, the more irrational and erratic their decisions became.
This might be because our brains are hardwired to react to uncertainty with fear. But if you know the right tricks, you can override your brain’s irrational tendencies and effectively handle the unknown.
The following strategies can help you to make sound decisions and will also boost your Emotional Intelligence.
Pause and Reflect
When faced with uncertainty, it’s important to take time to reflect and check in on yourself. There are various ways to do this, whether it be through journaling, meditation, or a conversation with a friend. But it’s important to get in touch with what you’re feeling. Reflect on your hardships, but also consider what’s positive in your life. Give yourself credit for your past successes. If you have experienced stressful, uncertain times in the past, consider how you handled them. What did you do that was helpful? What could you do differently?
2. Actively Practice Self-Care
Studies show that stress is responsible for up to 90% of all illness. Letting the stress of these uncertain times upset your routines and may in turn take a negative toll on your health. Make sure to eat healthy meals, exercise, and get enough sleep. Taking care of your mental and emotional health can only benefit your physical health.
3. Turn Off the TV
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the media coverage, the best thing you can do for yourself is to limit the time you spend in front of your TV. In this digital age, the news can reach us almost anywhere. But just because you are consuming more information does not mean you are more informed. In fact, you might be harming your emotional well-being by compulsively checking the headlines. It’s okay to step away from the screen, especially during times when you are feeling more vulnerable than usual.
4. Forget “Should” and Focus on “Want”
There is no right or wrong way to cope with stress and uncertainty. Some people experience an increase in their productivity, while others struggle to focus on work or completing daily tasks. Don’t let anyone dictate what you “should” be doing. Once you remove the pressure of other people’s expectations, you can focus on finding things that you want to do. Try listening to music, reading a good book, or even going to bed earlier. Finding ways to take your mind off your worries will help you get through difficult times.
5. Push Aside Perfectionist Tendencies
When faced with uncertainty, it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as a perfect decision. If you constantly seek perfection, you’ll be left with a nagging sense of failure. You’ll never be able to celebrate your accomplishments because you’ll be too busy lamenting over what you failed to accomplish. Emotionally intelligent people understand that perfection should never be the goal, rather it should always be about progress.
6. Find a Solid Support System
It’s very easy to feel like you’re alone in your struggles, especially when social interaction is limited. But it’s critical to remember that there are many others feeling exactly like you. The stress of uncertainty can feel very isolating, but if you surround yourself with people who will lift you up and share in both your highs and lows, it will be much easier to get through these unprecedented times.
7. Don’t Fixate on the Problems You Face
The main focus of your attention influences your emotional state. When you dwell on your problems, you are creating and prolonging stress and negative emotions. Don’t allow yourself to become preoccupied with the obstacles or dilemmas that arise during challenging times.
8. Control What You Can…Let Go of What You Can’t
When faced with uncertainty, it’s easy to start imagining all possible worst-case scenarios, but you shouldn’t make a habit of ruminating over negative events or possibilities. A constant desire for control can backfire when you start to view everything that you can’t control as a personal failure. To successfully manage your stress, you can’t be afraid to acknowledge what’s causing it. Be realistic – don’t paint any situation any better or worse than it actually is. Analyze the facts as best you can. Understand that no matter how uncertain a situation is, you can still control your decision-making process. Don’t let the unknown keep you from moving forward.
9. Learn to Calm Your Limbic System
The limbic system is a set of structures in your brain that deal with emotion and memory. It regulates autonomic or endocrine function in response to emotional stimuli. The limbic system typically responds to uncertainty with fear, which can inhibit your rational decision-making. If you learn to spot this fear as soon as it begins to surface, you can contain it before it gets out of control. Once you identify and label certain thoughts and fears as irrational, you can focus more accurately and rationally on the information that is presented to you.
10. Do Your Best to Remain Positive
By focusing your brain’s attention on positive thoughts, you can minimize fear and irrational thinking. Try consciously selecting something positive to think about. This is relatively easy to do when things are going well and you are in a good mood, but when you’re experiencing stress over an uncertain situation, it can be a challenge. As you navigate these unprecedented times, try to spend time each day focusing on the positives in your life. Whether it be something that happened to you recently or something that you’re looking forward to, try to keep one positive thing in your mind that you can shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.
11. Avoid Asking “What If?”
When you’re experiencing stress, “What if?” statements add fuel to the fire. Trying to imagine a myriad different possibilities won’t benefit your emotional health. Instead of focusing on what could happen, try to focus on what you can do to calm yourself down and keep your stress under control. Asking “What if?” will only take you to a place that you don’t want to go to.
12. Take a Deep Breath
This might be the simplest task, but it’s also one of the most important things you can do when dealing with uncertainty. You have to remain calm to make good decisions and an easy way to do this is through breathing. Practice being in the moment with your breathing – it will train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand. When you feel overwhelmed by the stress of uncertainty, simply do this: Shut the door, put aside distractions, close your eyes, and just breathe for a few minutes. Focusing on your breathing will prevent your mind from wandering. You’ll be surprised by how calm you feel afterward and how much easier it is to let go of negative, distracting thoughts.
It’s important to understand that we always have a choice about what we believe and how we behave during stressful times. Not liking your choices does not mean you don’t have them. When you learn to manage your stress, you gain control over yourself and your circumstances. Using these 12 steps will give you the keys to Unlock Bold Change™ in your life.
If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety associated with uncertainty, you can book a complimentary discovery call with Coach Monique today.