- Dr. Claire Vowell
- Publish Date
There’s no getting around it. Life is filled with uncertainty. It’s true that we have all faced enormous amounts of change and upheaval during the course of the pandemic but it’s also important to remember that life has never been entirely predictable. And looking for total certainty is only likely to lead to stress and anxiety.
To manage change, many of us use worry as a tool, attempting to reduce uncertainty and however impossibly, predict the future. Sure, it can seem like worrying gives you some control over uncertain circumstances, perhaps helping you find a solution or preparing you for the worst. But, however much time you devote to worrying, it won’t give you more control over uncontrollable events.
As people, we're meant to grow and evolve over time—after all, growing up doesn't just end when we become legal adults.
We sometimes need to remind ourselves that change can be a good thing, even if it feels intimidating. As people, we’re meant to grow and evolve over time—after all, growing up doesn't just end when we become legal adults.
Besides, change opens doors, and those doors can lead us to new and exciting places...if we’re able to move forward (instead of going over our thoughts about what could happen again). So, how do we manage these transitions to make them more bearable and even turn them into positives? We have five top tips to share with you:
1. Accept your emotions (they’ll come and go, either way)
It’s important to recognize the emotional impact of change. Take time to reflect on your situation and the changes you may have experienced. Notice the feelings that come up and make an effort to acknowledge and accept them (1).
It can sometimes be tempting to try and bottle up how you feel, or force yourself to be positive. But suppressing your emotions is likely to lead to increased stress and anxiety in the long run. Remember, although some feelings may be uncomfortable, there are no right or wrong emotions. Because you are not your feelings, and feelings are temporary anyway.
2. Take care of yourself (first)
When facing uncertainty or major life changes, it’s more important than ever to look after yourself both physically and emotionally (2). Make sure you pay special attention to the basics: get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet and make time for movement.
It’s also key to focus on nurturing your emotional wellbeing. Connect with friends or family, do activities you enjoy, or practice mindfulness techniques. You’ll be better able to face the challenges of change as they come if you take good care of your body and mind.
3. Keep your attention on here and now
When faced with change, it’s only natural to try and work out potential outcomes but correctly predicting the future isn’t just unlikely, it can quickly become overwhelming. Too often it may leave you feeling hopeless and low, or even prevent you from taking a necessary action to overcome a problem.
So instead of trying to predict what might happen, switch your attention to what’s actually happening right now (3). Try not to dwell on the past or become distracted by future scenarios that may never materialize. Focus on what you can control, perhaps starting with your daily routine.
4. Don’t underestimate yourself (and your ability to cope)
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty and change, remind yourself about all the ways you have coped in the past—chances are you’ve overcome stressful events before. Take time to reflect on what you have done previously that has been particularly useful and give yourself credit for the challenges you have overcome.
You can also consider things you might do differently, but the main idea here is to appreciate the ways you’ve been able to positively manage change. You may want to write these examples down in a diary or journal, so you can come back to them when things feel difficult.
5. Challenge your need for certainty
We sometimes adopt unhelpful behaviors in our desire to seek certainty. Some common examples are seeking excessive reassurance from friends or colleagues; repeatedly checking things; procrastination or micromanaging others. Start to challenge these behaviors and your need for certainty by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of demanding certainty?
- Can I ever really achieve certainty? (Spoiler alert...you already know the answer)
- Are there times I better tolerate uncertainty? What do I do then?
- How do others handle uncertainty? Can I learn from them?
So much of what happens in life is beyond our control. And curiously, it’s accepting that fact that allows us to take control of what we can control (our actions) and better handle change.
Lower tolerance of uncertainty is associated with diagnoses including depression and anxiety disorders. By challenging your need for certainty, you can begin to let go of unhelpful behaviors, reduce stress and worry, and be more open to change. So much of what happens in life is beyond our control. And curiously, it’s accepting that fact that allows us to take control of what we can control (our actions) and better handle change.
Looking for some guidance getting started processing your thoughts and feelings about change? Koa Foundations can help. Log in for evidence-based support to help you navigate tough transitions and build your resilience.
What are some tactics you like to use to deal with stressful change? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Sharp, K. (2012). A review of acceptance and commitment therapy with anxiety disorders. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 12(3), 359-372.
(2) Ohrnberger, J., Fichera, E., & Sutton, M. (2017). The relationship between physical and mental health: A mediation analysis. Social science & medicine, 195, 42-49.
(3) Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for anxiety and depression. Psychiatric clinics, 40(4), 739-749.
about the author
Dr. Claire Vowell
Claire is a Counseling Psychologist and is passionate about improving access to mental health care. She works with the content team to create evidence-based interventions to improve people's mental wellbeing.