Anxiety and uncertainty are often two sides of the same coin — one of the key indicators of anxiety is worry about the future. And because the future holds so many unknowns, it’s only natural to feel anxiety about that uncertainty.
At times, uncertainty can become so difficult to deal with that it’s hard to function. But even though none of us can see into the future, there are a variety of effective ways to manage how much you worry about far-off events.
Let’s take a look at some of these tools — including mindfulness, preparing yourself for possible scenarios to build confidence, establishing a self-care routine (this can involve exercise, sleeping well, and using supplements to help you relax), and journaling to gain clarity from your racing thoughts.
Why Uncertainty Causes Anxiety
Every person worries about things in life that they can’t predict or control. This is simply part of consciousness and the human experience, which is unique in that we’re capable of imagining and worrying about what the future might hold.
According to researchers, uncertainty is the prerequisite for anxiety. Anxiety can be fueled by not knowing what to do, not knowing what’s going to happen next, and not knowing what other people are thinking and feeling.
When researchers have studied the brains of people dealing with intolerance of uncertainty, they’ve found that uncertainty leads to disruptions in several different brain processes, including systems that control emotional regulation, threat detection, and safety detection.
For some people, not knowing what will happen in the future can fuel overwhelming worry spirals. These may be triggered by fleeting thoughts but then snowball into panic and dysfunction.
A lot of anxiety sufferers may choose avoidance of uncertainty and this will cause more anxiety in the future. This avoidance is more commonly known as worrying.
What’s the difference between worrying about the future and preparing for it? One is destructive while the other is productive.
- Worrying is thinking about and fearing possible future threats. This may trigger anxiety, which can present with both physical and emotional symptoms. This often occurs when there is no tangible or imminent threat.
- Preparing is planning for a negative future event with realistic expectations, a rational approach, and a calm state of mind. This often occurs when there is a specific threat that may or may not be imminent.
Worrying is carrying a knot in your stomach all week about a dental appointment and doomscrolling — reading online about everything that could go wrong.
Preparing may look like setting aside money in case cavities need to be filled, practicing deep breathing exercises, or playing relaxing music while at the dentist’s office or before arriving.
The Toll that Endless Worrying Takes on Your Body
The problem with anxiety caused by uncertainty is that it diminishes how efficiently and effectively we can prepare for the future. Anxiety is also a form of stress and takes a real, physical toll on our bodies.
Uncertainty can lead to many forms of distress, including:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Symptoms of generalized anxiety
- Panic or fear
- Social Anxiety
- Procrastination due to feeling helpless and “stuck”
Our brains can’t always differentiate between threatening things that are actually happening, and scary things that we imagine might happen in the future. Our nervous system becomes overly activated when we continuously fear the unknown, leading to increased release of stress hormones like cortisol.
Higher amounts of circulating stress hormones in our bodies translates to physiological changes such as impaired immune function, increased blood pressure, poor sleep, decreased focus, digestive issues, headaches, and other concerns.
What You Can Do to Find Relief
Some people are able to tolerate uncertainty better than others. People who handle unpredictability with a healthier attitude tend to partake in the habits mentioned below, which you can adopt for yourself to improve how you deal with anxiety:
1. Be More Mindful
The bottom line when it comes to uncertainty is that there’s nothing we can do to completely escape it. This means that owning your feelings and getting comfortable with them is key.
One way to live better with uncertainty is to practice mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or yoga, that help you check in with your thoughts regularly. Watch out for signs that you’re heading down an unrealistic or negative worry spiral.
By noticing how your anxiety-related thoughts are always coming and going, and how many of your worries never actually come to fruition, you can better recognize that worries aren’t always reliable.
This is a technique used in CBT for anxiety called “examining the evidence.”
2. Establish a Self-Care Routine
Creating routines that involve a series of healthy habits can help us to feel more organized, grounded, happier overall, and more sure of ourselves. This builds up our tolerance to uncertainty and makes us feel as if we can handle the future better, no matter what it entails.
Try establishing a confidence-building routine such as exercising regularly, eating well, sleeping better, reading things that are inspiring, and meditating daily.
Sleep is an essential component of a healthy mindset, so if you struggle to unwind and get good sleep due to anxiety, studies show that cannabidiol (CBD) oil can help decrease feelings of anxiety. Even cannabis itself, depending on its legality in your location, some strains of cannabis can give you short-term relief from anxiety.
It’s also wise to limit your time scrolling on social media, as research shows it aggravates numerous mental health disorders, as well as watching or reading the news if it triggers worries and anxiety.
3. Manage Pessimistic Thinking
Pessimism may seem useful, making you more realistic and grounded, but when left unchecked it can contribute to stress and is closely linked to depression.
Rather than always fixating on what may go wrong, try thinking of uncertainty as a good thing in some regards, since it can actually be exciting and motivating if you view it this way. The fact that you don’t know what will happen can give you a sense of freedom, autonomy, and options.
4. Set Small, Achievable Goals to Gain Confidence
While you can’t plan and prepare for everything as a way of avoiding or eliminating uncertainty, you can arm yourself with useful information.
If future projects or responsibilities seem overly daunting to you, try breaking bigger goals and challenges into smaller steps:
- Create straightforward to-do lists.
- Research information that can help you prepare.
- Seek advice from others who know about the topic at hand.
- Take things one step at a time as you continue learning.
Setting small goals and celebrating when you complete them will stimulate your body to create “feel good” chemicals like dopamine, which boosts your confidence and motivates you to keep going.
5. Try Audio Journaling to Release Worries
Talking about your worries out loud, or writing them down on paper, is an excellent way to help you realize that many of the things you worry about will never happen. Perhaps you’re catastrophizing or blowing certain things out of proportion, which you might not be able to see clearly until you really nail down your thoughts.
Rather than stuffing down your anxiety and ignoring your worries, it’s better to express your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment, as this helps you to process them. Audio journaling is one effective brain hacking tool that helps us to gain control over our thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
6. Practice Positive Visualization
This is a wellness technique that involves using your imagination to visualize a desired future outcome.
To practice visualization, mentally rehearse a scenario that gives you anxiety in advance, like meeting someone for a date, confronting a friend about an issue, or visiting a doctor. This allows you to prepare for what’s to come, and you’ll be more likely to feel confident and succeed in the moment.
While visualizing, you’re planting the process in your subconscious mind. You’re imagining yourself taking the actions that are necessary to reach your goals.
You can also use visualization as a means of preparing yourself for disappointments, like your client denying your request for a higher rate or a dentist telling you that you need a medical procedure. To do this, imagine not only how you’d handle negative feelings or a situation that doesn’t go your way, but also how you’ll bounce back.
Ask for Help in Managing Your Anxiety
It’s normal to experience anxiety about the future and other unknowns, however, working with a counsellor on this issue can be beneficial. If you have anxiety caused by uncertainty, contact Global Citizen Therapy for a consultation call.
Article by Ellie Shippey