Dealing with Uncertainty in Life – Written by Joyce Marter, LCPC

A man I just met with said the more he lives his life, the more uncertain things seem to him…

by UB’s Joyce Marter, LCPC:

He told me that in his youth he thought the opposite would be true – that as we get older, life would become more defined, solid, clear and certain. Perhaps this phenomenon is similar to the thought that the more we learn, the more we are aware of what we don’t know. As we move through life, we can become increasingly aware of all the unknowns and all that is beyond our control.

Uncertainty and ambiguity are aspects of life that can be extremely overwhelming and difficult to tolerate emotionally. We can experience stress, anxiety and fear when facing life challenges for which the outcome is uncertain. For example, whether you will get that new job, find your life partner, have enough money to make that next mortgage payment, have children, or the results of a doctor’s visit.

We may respond to uncertainty by trying to exercise more control over our lives. We might notice ourselves becoming less flexible and more rigid in our relationships, work, and routines when faced with uncertainty. This is actually the basis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – compulsions or rituals that create a false sense of control over that which we have little control. While many of us do not have clinical OCD, many of us will experience the need to control whatever we can when we are feeling most out of control.

There is great wisdom in the well-known serenity prayer – “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” While we all need to have be empowered to advocate for ourselves in life in a positive, assertive and proactive manner, we must also balance that by coming to a place of acceptance that sometimes things just “are what they are.” We must also learn to let go of that which we can not control.

We can cope with uncertainty and practice acceptance and letting go by implementing whichever of the following strategies work for us:

  • Deep breathing or mindful breath work
  • Visualization exercises and positive imagery
  • Setting healthy boundaries in our lives (we don’t have to take on everything)
  • Focusing on the present
  • Taking care of ourselves emotionally and physically
  • Sharing our feelings with others
  • Releasing energy through exercise
  • Spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, yoga, etc.
  • Cathartic expression through art or dance

Life is like being in a rowboat on a river. We can have a map, we can use our oars, but we can’t control what is around the bend. We all have a journey, to navigate it successfully we must balance between empowerment and acceptance, and learn to let go of what we cannot control during times of uncertainty.


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