How To Manage Uncertainty in Uncertain Times
The world is in the grip of a global pandemic. We are living in extremely uncertain times - and that uncertainty can be difficult to cope with.
You may feel worried right now. You may struggle to keep anxious thoughts in check. And you may feel unsure about the future. But help is at hand - you CAN learn to live with uncertainty. Keep reading to find out more about why uncertainty and anxiety are linked and how you can tackle this anxiety from the comfort of your own home.
Facing Uncertainty is Scarier than Facing Physical Pain
A new study shows that the fear of something bad happening in the future can be more stressful than the knowledge that something bad is happening or will happen.
In 2016, a group of London researchers explored how people react to being told they will either "definitely" or "probably" receive a painful electric shock. They discovered an intriguing paradox.
Volunteers who knew they would definitely receive a painful electric shock felt
calmer and were measurably less agitated than those who were told that they only had a 50% chance of receiving the same electric shock.
In the study, researchers recruited 45 volunteers to play a computer game in which they turned over digital rocks that might have snakes hiding underneath. Throughout the game, they had to guess whether each rock concealed a snake. When a snake appeared, they received a mild but painful electric shock on the hand.
Over the course of the game, they got better about predicting which rocks concealed the snakes. However, the game was designed to keep changing the odds of success to maintain ongoing uncertainty.
When we’re facing outcomes imbued with uncertainty, it’s the fact that
something bad might happen that “gets” us. The volunteers’ level of uncertainty correlated to their level of stress. So, if someone felt “certain” that he or she would find a snake, stress levels were significantly lower than if they felt that they might find a snake. In both cases, they’d get a shock, but their stress was loaded with added uncertainty.
Archy de Berker from the UCL Institute of Neurology said: "Our experiment
allows us to draw conclusions about the effect of uncertainty on stress. It turns out that it's much worse not knowing you are going to get a shock than knowing you definitely will or won’t.”
Uncertainty Ignites our Primitive Survival Instinct
If we can’t neutralise a perceived threat, we engage in the unhelpful process called “worry”. We grapple with whatever the problem is to find solutions to the threat, but there are none.
Does this make us feel better? No, of course it doesn’t - it makes us feel worse. In our need for certainty, we are wired to “catastrophise” - we view or talk of a
situation as if it is worse than it actually is. This leads to worry, which in turn leads to anxiety.
The modern brain struggles to distinguish between real threat and perceived threat. The result is that the primitive brain takes over and triggers the primitive survival instinct - fight-or-flight.
It asks questions like:
What is going to happen…?
What is around the corner for me…?
Should I be doing more…?
Should I be doing less…?
What if my business is threatened…?
What if my livelihood is threatened…?
What if my life is threatened…?
The lack of answers to these questions can lead to:
What Can we do to Mitigate Uncertainty?
Armed with this knowledge of how the brain responds to times of crisis, there are a number of things we can do to lessen the effects of uncertainty.
• Awareness is your superpower - be aware of your feelings and emotions; acknowledge them and try to live with them.
• Notice the “worry story” you are telling yourself - tell yourself that this “story” is just that - a story. Try to distance yourself from this imagined story.
• Focus on breathing - by forcing ourselves to take long slow breaths, we trick the physical body into thinking it is safe. Breath exercises can help to combat the physical fight-or-flight response.
• Recognise the need to rise above fight-or-flight - know the physical symptoms of fight-or-flight and recognise when it kicks in.
• Accept uncertainty - learn to live with uncertainty. Give yourself permission to stop the internal struggle.
Stand up to Anxiety with Some Mood-Boosters
Here are a few ways you can encourage the body to relax and produce “happy” hormones like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. These hormones will help to slow down the heart beat, and reduce the effects of your body’s fight-or-flight response.
• Exercise and movement
• Meditation, self hypnosis
• Achievement-oriented activity
• Something pleasant or fun - something you enjoy
By spending just 15 minutes a day focusing on yourself, you will help you regain a sense of balance and inner peace. The more you practice and personalise these strategies, the better you will feel!
To help you with mood-boosting, check out my 15-minute meditation for anxiety. This download is completely free of charge. As a certified clinical hypnotherapist, I have helped numerous people tackle anxiety through my meditations. Click here to find out more about this free meditation today.
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