Coping with uncertainty is part of life. It causes stress and anxiety. "The very essence of romance is uncertainty." – Oscar Wilde
If this is accurate, then predictability must be its downfall. Coping with uncertainty is part of life. It causes stress and anxiety. Research has shown that one component of worry is being unable to tolerate uncertainty. During your lifetime, there's a one out of four chance that you willhave a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Anxiety exists in epidemic proportions. And it’s widespread.
In any given year, approximately 40 million Americans will suffer from a debilitating form of anxiety.
Here are the facts: Let’s say 40 million people fell mysteriously ill on a physical level ,.. Wait a second, almost 400 million confirmed cases and almost six million deaths have been reported across nearly 200 countries …from Covid. You might say we're acclimated to massive angst. Anxiety reigns supreme. The Center for Disease Control searched for the cause and keeps on looking for the solution. Meanwhile, the long-term impact remains unknown. As a practicing Therapist (a shrink to most people) it never made sense that the best we can do is try to manage anxiety, typically through medication. So I've been searching, trying to understand why we struggle this way. Of course there are normal levels of stress, stress of engagement when we are being productive and generative and moving forward. But when stress turns into distress, it impedes, it blocks our ability to live our lives well, with joy, to be present in our relationships.
We are entrenched in an epidemic of anxiety. Here’s what I've learned: I find that primarily the cause of such anxiety results from the way we react to our thoughts. You see, when our thoughts constantly seek certainty, we want to know the future in advance; we get anxious, we get fearful. It’s impossible to discern the future in advance; it's unknowable. But we still continue to search for it and we are hampered from actually engaging in the flow of our lives. We try to ward off uncertainty…instead of just experiencing life. This induces fear in our lives. Ask yourself, think to yourself, what causes stress and fear; what causes anxiety in your life? Does it have anything to do with needing to know the future? Anything at all? Here is a case history. A number of years ago, I treated a woman regarding her relationship, her marriage and her anxiety disorder. She shared with me that she was unhappily married in a loveless marriage. Her husband refused marriage counseling. She said they were very disconnected and conflicted. They were both financially independent, and they had no children. So I asked her, "Why do you continue to stay married?" She said, “I’m afraid of uncertainty. Who would I be if I get divorced? What would my life be like if I were not married?" I was taken back at first, because the known part of her life was setting up such despair, such anguish, depression and anxiety. But there it was. She needed to know who she would be in the future and that precluded her from moving forward. It kept her stagnating in life and stuck in the way she was. The need to know, "Who would I be?” kept her mired in an unhappy, if not miserable, relationship. I see this phenomenon occurring on so many levels in our lives.
So how do we get stuck requiring certainty? We tolerate uncertainty when we go to sporting events and movies, and when we read books. But in our personal lives, we do try to thwart uncertainty. We accept that if we have enough information, or what we might call data, we can reasonably predict a future event (also known as determinism). But we took it to an extreme, one that led us to slicing and dicing our options, and getting us stuck. It created fear. We are apprehensive about making a wrong move. It's almost as though, we go through life like we're playing a chess match. We sit back and deliberate, and deliberate some more––all the while afraid of making the wrong move. But here's the good news: It turns out we've been following the wrong game plan. There have been remarkable discoveries. The universe, reality, is nothing like what we imagined it to be. Reality is not fixed, deterministic or predictable. Nothing is inert. It is a flowing, moving, bubbling sea of possibilities, infinite potentiality. We can (yes it is possible) to live our life accordingly. Reframe your relationship with uncertainty. Think about it. Embracing uncertainty allows you to start crafting and navigating your own life decisions. I’ll show you how. This is concept I used with the woman who was stuck in a troubled marriage. CLOSE YOUR EYES Imagine you are standing by a river. Metaphorically, the river you see is your life, the flow of your life. But the current is strong, and churning. Keep your eyes closed. Let a few seconds pass. NOW, write down what you visualize. Stop reading long enough to do it. This is what my patient wrote: She said, “I see myself struggling in the middle of the river, but there is a large rock––actually a boulder––and I grabbed it, My arms are wrapped around it. I’m hanging on.” I asked her, ”Why?" She said, "Well, up ahead the river bends to the right, and I need to know where it will take me." That was her perception of life as a divorced or single woman. She needed to know. I explained to her, You have to let go of the boulder. Enter the flow of life. Once you do, you will be free to navigate along the way, But she had to let go.
Change your perspective. The subject is so important that it is the first thing I cover in my new NoCouchTherapy+ online course. First we have to change our relationship with uncertainty. Typically what we fear, we resist. we push it away. And when we do that, we embolden it and make it greater than it really is. We become more anxious. Paradoxically, what we need to do is open our perspective and invite what we fear in. When you invite fear in––in this case, you invite uncertainty in and the fear starts to dissipate; and retreat. Think of it this way: If reality is uncertain, yet we keep seeking certainty, we're going to dysfunction. We will be socially impaired. We need to change our game plan. See the thought, but don't become the thought. Then you can release it. But, if you keep having thoughts that seek certainty and garner fear, you will never transcend anxiety.
The most important relationship in your life is with your thoughts. Learn to choose them carefully. Turn them into your ally. When you do that, you can begin to write the script of your own life. Think of it this way: Embrace uncertainty; it can be your best friend.
Don’t let uncertainty stop you.