How uncertainty can ruin our lives
Brexit and climate change are the latest national crises that have highlighted the fact that nothing in this life is certain, except, as the old adage goes, for death and taxes.
Except that is not quite true; uncertainty is the other absolute certainty. It always was and always will be part of our lives as humans, and yet so many of us seem unable to cope with any form of uncertainty. It is, without doubt, the main cause of anxiety or worse. The words “what if”, rather than being seen as an opportunity to prepare for alternative possible outcomes, instil terror, triggering instead the reaction of irrational thinking that the worst thing that can possibly happen will in fact happen.
The fear manifests itself in a myriad of ways, for example, when we feel completely out of our comfort zone. It might be that we cannot deal with conflict, so we avoid people. It might be that we have perfectionist tendencies, and so we put off opening our work emails for fear they might contain something criticising our work, and we will feel that we have failed. If we are feeling insecure, riddled with self-doubt, we may be terrified of criticism. Opening work emails and social media has become a highly stressful occupation. What is out there waiting for us? Do we dare to look? Who will it be from? What will they say? Will we hold our breath, take the plunge, and hope for the best?
We may also have fears around losing our job, our home. We might worry about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren. We put off doing something we want to do for fear of imagined problems. For example, is the time right? We worry about what the future holds, and we try to predict it. We need to know! Look at how many of us turn to tarot readers for the answers!
We may have fears around rejection. For example, we may allow it to stop us applying for a job, or we may fear we will be judged, say by asking someone out on a date and being rebuffed, or being ignored at a social function.
If we are feeling insecure around uncertainty, we react negatively. The fear is of lack of control over the outcome of situations, and so the behavior is procrastination or avoidance. The feelings of being overwhelmed and feeling unsafe are chaotic and unclear. The result can be a total paralysis, and we stop living our lives as we cannot, on any level, embrace not knowing. We cannot plan, and we cannot rely on the effectiveness of our routines anymore.
For some of us, the need for control becomes overwhelming. It can manifest as the inability to let go of anything for fear of an undesired outcome so that we are called “control freaks”, or it can become a disorder such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where extreme repetitive behaviors are often undertaken in the belief that by carrying out the behaviour, the person exhibiting it will avoid something bad happening, often to someone else.
When we become hyper-vigilant to threat, the body’s physiological response to the brain's perception of threat is to put us into fight or flight mode; we might suffer panic attacks, we can’t think straight, our hearts are racing, and we cease to function rationally. When this becomes habitual, we suffer from chronic stress due to the continued release of Cortisol into our bodies, and our bodies, as a result, suffer long-term effects such as a weakened immune system and an inability to fight off illness.
A lot of us are natural worriers, so when life throws us a curve ball and all becomes uncertain, our thinking can get out of control. If we tend to be plagued by self-doubt, we may obsessively ruminate on a past situation's as yet unknown outcome, replaying the situation over and over, imagining different scenarios, imagining we had said this rather than that, imagining we hadn’t reacted the way we did because we believe we may have looked stupid. Such behavior leaves us exhausted and unproductive. It affects our sleep and our ability to function.
It need not be like this. There are many techniques available to us to handle uncertainty. It won’t go away, so we need to find ways to cope. We need to learn how to become more flexible, more resilient. We may need more self-confidence, or to have a feeling of self-worth. We need to think, feel and behave differently if we are going to manage uncertainty. and all of this is possible, but we just might need a bit of help. It just might transform our lives and enable us to cope and get on and live life.