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Dealing With the Stress of Uncertainty


By Ted Chapin, Ph.D., Chapin & Russell Associates – Neurotherapy Institute of Central Illinois

One thing worse than a known fear is an unknown fear. What is going on? How worse can it get? Will we be okay? What happens if . . . ? Today, the stress of uncertainty comes from many places. A few of these include the pandemic, the economy and inflation, climate change, political unrest, the looming war between Russia and the Ukraine, children’s educational declines, long term health and financial consequences of Covid, and the increasing toll of all of these on our mental health. Uncertainty can be found just about everywhere we turn.

The American Psychological Association recently published 10 tips for dealing with the stress of uncertainty. While none of these will make the uncertainty around us go away, they will each strengthen our ability to deal with it. First, “Be kind to yourself.”  Not everyone handles uncertainty the same. Remind yourself it may take some time for the stressful situation to resolve itself. In the meantime, be patient. Second, “Reflect on your past successes.”  You have likely overcome stressful events in the past and survived. What did you do?  What could you do now?  Third, “Develop new skills.”  When life is calm, try things outside your comfort zone. Stand up to a difficult supervisor or learn a new sport. These may help you build personal confidence to help fend off uncertainty. Fourth, “Limit exposure to the news.”  Compulsively checking the news will keep you wound up. Limit your check-ins and avoid the news altogether during vulnerable times like just before bedtime. Fifth, “Avoid dwelling on things you can’t control.”  Do not let your thoughts wander to the worst case scenario. This is called catastrophizing and leads to excessive ruminating about possible negative events. Instead stay in the present. Take stock of what is known and what you can control. “I have a home. I have loved ones. I enjoy music. I can breathe calmly. I can enjoy the outdoors.”

When lost and unsure what to do, “Take your own advice.”  This sixth tip for dealing with the stress of uncertainty helps you change your perspective on things. “If a friend came to me, what would I say to them?”  Imagine the situation from a different standpoint. Seventh, “Engage in self-care.”  Maintain your healthy routines (eating, exercise, sleep, checking in with others). Try adding yoga, meditation, or prayer. Consider a new hobby or social activity. Eighth, “Seek support from those you trust.”  Sometimes it is very difficult to reach out to others, especially when we are feeling down. We want to make a good impression and don’t want to dump our problems onto others. When you are in genuine need and reach out to others, most people will want to come to your side. Do not isolate yourself. Reach out to family and friends. Chances are they too are feeling down about all the uncertainty in lives and would love to commiserate with you. Ninth, “Control what you can.”  Focus on weekly meal planning. Lay out your clothes for the next day. Do some home organizing. Lean into your routines. Plan to do something different and interesting in your life.

Lastly, and the tenth tip, “Ask for help.”  Counselors, social workers, and psychologists are experts in helping people learn healthy ways to cope with stress. They are trained listeners. They are by their nature, encouraging people. Their training makes them uniquely qualified to help you problem solve, express your feelings, challenge your irrational thoughts, and problem solve the challenges in your life. Some have specialized skills such as biofeedback and neurofeedback to help restore physical calmness and strengthen more serious neurological dysregulation at the root of attention, sleep, trauma, and more serious mood imbalance. As someone once said, “Tough times never last. Tough people do.”   While you can’t always be tough navigating your way through uncertain times, you can always reach out to specially trained professional who can help you cope and strengthen your personal resilience. Remember, at Chapin & Russell Associates “We Heal Hearts and Change Lives.”

Ted Chapin, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Board Certified in Neurofeedback, and a Counselor in the practice of the Neurotherapy Institute of Central Illinois, a division of Chapin & Russell Associates, 3020 W. Willow Knolls Drive. He can be reached by calling 309-681-5850. www.chapinandrussell/neurotherapy.