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The Role of Uncertainty in Life

Uncertainty is all around us, never more than today. Whether it concerns the pandemic, the upcoming presidential election, or your finances, much of what lies ahead in life is uncertain. Yet as humans, we crave security. We want to feel safe and have a sense of control over our lives and well-being. As we have always heard, nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. Fear and uncertainty can leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and powerless over the direction of your life. I have a close friend who worries about the future, is trapped in a downward spiral of endless “what-ifs” and constantly discusses the worst-case scenarios about what tomorrow may bring. It’s emotionally draining for him and for his family/friends around him.

It's important to know you’re not alone; many of us are in the same boat. It’s also important to realize that no matter how helpless and hopeless you feel, there are actionable steps you can take to better deal with the uncertainty of life, alleviate your anxiety, and face the unknown with more confidence.

1. Learn to cope with uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life. To cope with this uncertainty, many of us use worrying as a tool. Maybe if you agonize over a problem long enough, just think through every possibility, you’ll find a solution and be more able to control the outcome. Chronic worrying robs you (and everyone around you) of the enjoyment in the present, saps your energy, and keeps you up all night. How to cope with uncertainty and at the same time adjust your mindset for a healthier life begins with realizing a few things:

A. Focus on controlling those things that are under your control. Worry about what is, not what if.

B. Challenge your mindset and your constant need for certainty. Learn to tolerate and embrace the inevitable uncertainty of life. I know it’s easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere.

2. Act over things you can control.

You can’t control the economy, or your health, or the spread of a virus, but you can refocus your efforts elsewhere. A better diet, more exercise, and a reduction in your household spending/increased savings, can assist in improving positive future outcomes.

3. Learn to accept the uncertainty of life.

Allow yourself to feel the uncertainty of the situation. Instead of engaging in futile efforts to gain control over the uncontrollable. Focus on the present moment. Take some slow, deep breaths, or try a meditation routine to keep you anchored in the present.

4. Manage stress and your anxiety.

Get moving with more exercise which is an excellent stress reliever and anti-anxiety treatment. Make sure to get plenty of sleep. Encourage your body to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep. It’s amazing how much a good night’s rest will do for both body and soul. Lastly, eat a healthy diet. Avoid sugary and processed foods. Remind yourself that the quality of the food you consume equals the quality of good for the body.

In closing I am reminded of the happiness chart, which highlights as we get older, our happiness goes up.

How Americans Rate Their Happiness, By Age

Source: "Happiness, Stress, and Age: How the U Curve Varies Across People and Places,"
Journal of Population Economics, January 2017

~ Robert Bullock