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Managing Uncertainty

Uncertainty is an unavoidable part of life.  Since most circumstances that impact us are beyond our control, we can feel powerless when we dwell excessively on controlling outcomes.  When we allow anxiety over the future to dominate our thinking, we often try to lessen this feeling by attempting to control circumstances or other people who are outside our control.  This almost always backfires by damaging our relationships, our work environment and our overall ability simply to enjoy life.


So, what are some healthier ways of managing uncertainty?


Stay on top of what you know has to be done.  The better you manage your known obligations, the easier it is to adapt when you get blindsided by the unknown.  If you tend to procrastinate or put tasks off until the last minute, you are ill-prepared for some unexpected demand to blindside you.  One of the best practices to ensure that you are prepared for the unexpected is to routinely stay on top of what you already know has to be done.  Building in a cushion by doing tasks in advance relieves a good deal of pressure and allows you more flexibility in moving things around to accommodate this when it occurs.


Build in a buffer. Whether it is finances, time or stress, avoid making a practice of operating as close to the edge as possible; you will, inevitably, find yourself “overdrawn”.  Even though you may not know what unexpected expense, frustration, or time demands you may have in a given day or week, you can bet there will be something. So, build in a “miscellaneous” category into your budget of money, time and energy that can be allocated for whatever comes up.


Gather Information.  Most often, stress is the result of the anxiety we feel over our fear of the unknown.  Even though you may not have an absolute knowledge of what may happen in your job, relationships or finances, you can do your best to gain as much knowledge as you can so that you are better prepared and can more accurately anticipate outcomes.  Gathering the information you need to understand something that may be stressing you can give you the insight to make your best decisions and help you feel more in-control of your thoughts and emotions.


Set realistic goals.  We often under-estimate how much time, effort or money a project will take. Unexpected expenses or delays can escalate our tension, frustration and irritability. You can make your goals more realistic by accommodating these factors when estimating what the given project will demand of you.  This also applies to other goals, such as your financial and relationship goals, as well as how much you need to invest in your own self-care.


Learn to say NO.  We tend to under-estimate the amount of stress we can tolerate.  We may sacrifice self-care and time with the important people in our lives so that we can take on more and more, not realizing the damage we may be doing to ourselves.  We function best when we maintain a healthy balance of investing energy into our work and our relationships, as well as taking care of ourselves.  When you find that you are not in a position to say NO, be willing to ask for help or ask for more time.


Be mindful of your thoughts. It is the way we allow ourselves to think about circumstances that creates a feeling of uncertainty or anxiety.  Even when we cannot affect the circumstances, we can impact the way we view them by what we tell ourselves about them.  Instead of defining an undesirable outcome as “terrible” or “devastating”, change your language to something like, “That would not be what I prefer, but I would still be okay.”  Or, “That would be difficult, but I could handle it.”


Take care of your physical health (sleep, physical activity, eating).  Physical activity can have a huge impact on your outlook and mental functioning.  Getting your heart rate up for even a few minutes each day can boost your energy, lower your stress and improve your mood.  Getting adequate sleep by following a consistent nighttime schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene will enable you to be more focused, make better decisions and manage your emotions more calmly.  Eating foods that are not heavy in fat, calories or sugar can lessen the feeling of being sluggish and improve your focus.


By planning ahead and taking initiative, you can develop healthy physical and mental habits that empower you to deal successfully with life’s unexpected.  When you keep it going, you will find an increased sense of calm and self-confidence that can respond to nearly any circumstance you will face.




Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.

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