Accepting the unexpected gifts of uncertainty
Seven ways to help you embrace uncertain times this holiday season and beyond
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that 2020 has been brimming over with uncertainty: uncertainty for our health, our finances, our economies, our personal freedom, the list goes on. The arrival of a number of different vaccines may provide some hope for 2021, but there will still be an abundance of uncertainty over the festive season.
It’s part of human nature to want to prepare for the future and know what lies ahead of us, however there is only so much in our control. Unanticipated plot turns such as illness, loss, break-ups, financial issues can knock us off balance at any time, pandemic or not. Of course, not all things coming from left-field are bad. We can just as likely meet the love of our lives out of the blue, or get inspired with a compelling idea for a new business or project while in the shower or out for a walk.
We will inevitably have to face unknowns throughout our lives, and sometimes the uncertainty swirling around us can feel like a dense fog that prevents us from clearly seeing the road ahead. When we get swept away in questions, thoughts and worries about the future, it can result in some pretty serious anticipatory anxiety.
This may sound a little unusual, but rather than fall into the trap of worrying about when you’ll get the vaccine, whether you will keep your job, who will be with you for the holiday season this year, what if we looked at uncertainty as a gift?
If your mind immediately bucks against that thought, imagine all the benefits that can be gained by simply accepting uncertainty. Having this powerfully calming perspective gives us that ability to roll with the punches, bounce back from whatever comes along, be more flexible, and most importantly, be less anxious.
This isn’t about rolling over in resignation and giving up control. Instead, it’s about focusing on what you can control, like getting your CV out there or spending quality time with your partner for instance, and building acceptance around everything else.
So, how exactly do we accept this unwanted gift? Here are seven tips:
1) Change your perspective
The lens through which we view the world around us profoundly influences our state of mind. Of course, viewing uncertainty as a “gift” helps us reframe the situation. Think about how boring life would be if everything were orderly, static and predictable. After all, if we were able to predict everything in life, there could be no novelty, pleasant surprises or sense of adventure. “Buying into” this perspective can take time and practice, but the calm, focused mindset that follows will be well worth it.
2) Sit with it
Recognise when you are feeling anxious about uncertainty. How does it feel? Is it a twisted feeling in the pit of your stomach perhaps, or a feeling of tightness in the chest? Be curious about how it makes you feel and try to detach and observe yourself feeling it. Don’t try to change it, just notice. As you sit with uncertainty and get comfortable in it, you may find that your resilience will grow, and you won’t sweat the small stuff as much.
3) Be in the moment
Rather than living our lives one step ahead and worrying about the future, tools like mindfulness can help us connect to the present moment and better tolerate times of uncertainty. Of course, the practice of just noticing mentioned in “sitting with it” above is also a big part of mindfulness, and can shift focus from futile worry thoughts about the future to what’s important to us in the here and now.
4) Practice self-care
This is one area of life we can try to control. How are you taking care of yourself in the present moment? Attending to your own needs and nurturing yourself provides time for you recharge. Things like going for a run ticks the exercise box but can also provide you companionship or that much needed time alone. Think about easy ways you can give yourself a little more TLC.
5) Take a media holiday
Paradoxically, overconsumption of media, social or otherwise, is a great way to fuel anxiety. While it can be helpful to obtain information about our world, a preoccupation with it can shift our worries to events that are well beyond our control, and it’s impossible to keep up on everything. Remember to focus on what’s going on in your own world. Take a regular device holiday and unplug from external angst.
6) Handle anxiety lightly
One sure-fire way increase anxiety is to try to ignore it or push it down and just get on with life. Recognise it, handle it lighter, talk to someone about it, journal about it. Identify whether anxiety triggers are something you can act on (or elicit help to act on), and if not, work on building that acceptance around them. Notice if any values can be revealed behind your anxiety — in other words, does what’s really important to you reside beneath it?
7) Practice gratitude
The act of gratitude has become quite popular in psychology, with gratitude lists almost becoming cliché these days. However, that’s because they work. Honing in on what you have to be grateful for today will help shift your attention away from uncertainty about the future. Making time for a quick list or reflection at the end of the day can also be very calming.
Before rejecting the gift of uncertainty, take a look at what we may have already reaped from it, whether that be originality, excitement, creativity, adventure or innovation. Undoubtedly, uncertainty has played a powerful hand in shaping our lives in some way. And let’s not forget, we are all works in progress with uncertain outcomes, and we are in this journey together.
Maybe it’s a good thing that this gift doesn’t come with a return policy!