Managing uncertainty & change
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
Over the last year, we’ve all experienced change and uncertainty on a whole new level to what we might have experienced before.
A lot of us find uncertainty and unpredictability difficult to tolerate and it often leads to worry and lots of those ‘what if’ type thoughts.
Whilst things may be returning to some form of ‘normality’, learning to manage uncertainty more generally can be helpful in supporting our wellbeing. Below are some ideas on how we can go about doing this:
Recognise and acknowledge how you’re feeling
Take some time to really check in with how you’re feeling. Just acknowledging that you may be struggling with change or uncertainty can be really useful.
Try to catch yourself if you experience thoughts that you ‘should’ be coping or managing. Shaming ourselves for feeling how we’re feeling often means we end up pushing those feelings down, which works in the short term or in that moment but tends to just catch up with us again at a later point.
For some people, part of acknowledging how they’re feeling is about talking it through with someone like a friend or a loved one. If there isn’t someone around you that you feel you can speak to, then you could consider speaking to a Wellbeing Adviser or another professional.
Focus on the here and now
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking ahead to the future when things are feeling uncertain. Looking ahead can sometimes be helpful - it can mean that we’re able to identify barriers or problems to things and it can give us the opportunity to plan, set and achieve goals. However, sometimes, thinking ahead can leave us feeling anxious or apprehensive and leave us feeling stuck with those ‘what if’ thoughts.
If you’re finding uncertainty difficult to tolerate, you may start to perceive worrying as helpful to you - because it is preparing you for that worst case scenario or any eventuality. If we’re spending our time and energy worrying, it can sometimes feel like the uncertainty has reduced and can fool us into thinking we’re in control.
BUT... does it actually make things any more certain or predictable? Are you any more in control? In reality, what has probably gone on is you’ve experienced lots of worse case scenario thinking, worked yourself up, felt stressed and in doing so probably taken yourself away from the stuff that really matters to you and not actually felt that you’ve moved forward in any way with that thing that is uncertain or changing.
If this is something you’ve experienced, try to focus on the day to day, what is in your control right now and what you can do, rather than future events that may be out of your control.
Mindfulness practice is helpful with focusing on the here and now. It’s about living life in the present and observing our thoughts and feelings without judgement. Headspace is a great app if you’re interested in trying some mindful practice.
Recognise the constants in life
Even when things feel very uncertain and unsettling, there tends to be some things, however small, that do not change for us - perhaps a close relationship, our favourite walk or song, for example.
Noticing whatever this may be for you and practicing gratitude can help us feel ok about the possibilities of the future and see the reality more clearly. Gratitude is not about being grateful for the difficult, uncertain thing that might be happening, but having an appreciation for those constants that remain, despite the difficulty.
Establish a routine
Linked with these constants is the idea of establishing a routine. Developing a daily routine can help manage stress and maintain positive habits.
The certainty attached to a routine and these things that we can do can provide an anchor and a sense of stability and certainty when factors within our situation feel uncertain.
When you’re thinking about developing or re-establishing a routine, be sure to make time for the things that are important to you and you enjoy, alongside our more basic needs like sleep, exercise and nutrition (which shouldn’t be underestimated at times of difficulty).
Reframe those tricky thoughts
Our minds are drawn to the negative at the best of times but when things are feeling unpredictable and uncertain, we’re more likely to get a bit stuck in negative cycles with our thoughts. We might become fixated on an issue, perhaps do that worse case scenario type thinking, and are generally more likely to focus on things that match our mood i.e. the negatives.
To break these patterns, we can take a step back and look at the evidence for our thoughts. Practicing doing this can help us see things from a more balanced perspective.
Some examples of what you can ask yourself are: What’s the worst and best that can happen, what’s most likely to happen? Is there another way of looking at this? What advice would I give someone else with this thought?
If you’re finding uncertainty or change difficult, you’re not on your own. You can book an appointment to explore how you’re feeling with a Wellbeing Adviser in your Faculty here.
Student Wellbeing Adviser - Faculty of Arts & Humanities