How to Cope with Uncertainty

Mar 23, 2011
4 Min Read

Benjamin Franklin once said that nothing is certain except death and taxes.  We might agree with him on paper, but uncertainty still scares us, and in the last three years there’s been more than enough of it to go around.

It’s not good for our health either.  In 2008, researchers at the University of Michigan found that uncertainty can actually be worse for us than outright bad news.  The study followed 3,000 employed people below age 60, and divided the subjects between those who were worried about losing their jobs and those who were not so concerned.

Based on participant self-reports, the researchers discovered that people who felt chronically insecure about their jobs experienced poorer health overall and were more depressed those who had actually lost their jobs or had even faced a serious or life-threatening illnesses!

Uncertainty, however, is not going to go away, so how can you cope more productively with it?  Here are some strategies I try to employ:

Put things that you can’t change out of your mind

There is no use in obsessing over something you have no control over whatsoever, like whether your company meets its quarterly numbers or it snows on the day of your wedding.

Take action to prevent bad outcomes you do have some control over

If you’re worried that you will go broke if you lose your job, start a savings plan immediately, or if you are concerned that your boss is unhappy with your performance, schedule a meeting with her to discuss the issues point-blank.  Once you have done everything productive you can possibly do, let the anxiety go.

Meditate daily

The tried-and-true method is slow, deep breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  Doing this as well as trying to relax each part of your body one at a time has been proven to lessen the stress response.

Stay off the Internet

Hypochondriacs, for instance, are notorious for fueling their anxiety about whether they have a disease by scouring online health sites at all hours of the day and night.  There is a psychological principle known as confirmation bias, which claims that people who are already worrying about something will value negative information they find over neutral or positive information.  Don’t fall into this trap.

Talk to someone objective

Find a friend or family member who understands your situation and can help you get a realistic grasp of how likely the uncertain event is to occur.  Do keep in mind, though, that sometimes too much reassurance from too many people can make anxiety worse.

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