Stacy G. Smith, MS, LPC
Living in a World of Uncertainty
For anyone living with anxiety, uncertainty can feel like their worst enemy. "Not knowing" can feel terrifying, and leave them playing and replaying scenarios in their minds about how events and situations can potentially play out. Rather than accepting uncertainty as a part of daily life, an individual with anxiety may focus on the "what ifs," which are most often worst case scenarios.
The truth is, we all live with uncertainty every day. From the time we wake up until we fall asleep, the world of uncertainty is at work. How many times have we planned out a particular day, only to resort to Plan B (and C and D and E...) when things didn't go as planned - we got sick, our children got sick, we got stuck in traffic, a friend cancelled, our car broke down, it started to rain...
While feeling certain in a world of uncertainty can be comforting to some, think for a moment about what a completely, 100% certain world would look like. Do we really want to know what each and every day will bring (both the good and the bad), if and when we would get sick (both mild and severe), how and when we will die, etc...? Or would that exacerbate our anxiety and worsen our fears?
While uncertainty can spark anxiety, it's usually not uncertainty itself one is truly anxious about - rather, it is often the underlying fear of "Will I be able to cope?" particularly when the worst case scenario is imagined.
Building our coping skills and confidence to handle life's challenges is essential, and we are constantly put to the test each day. When something does not go as planned, we adapt. The more we face unexpected situations, the more adapting we learn to do, the more resiliency we build, and the better we become at coping - not just with mild inconveniences, but the larger ones as well. If we all take a moment to think of how many unknown, unfamiliar, and unexpected situations we've ever encountered, it can be comforting to realize that we've gotten through each and every one of them. How do we know? Well, we're all still here today, coping, surviving, and moving forward. That means we've been coping with uncertainty our whole lives.
If you struggle with uncertainty, a good exercise to do is as follows:
Make a list of some of the most challenging, unexpected, and unfamiliar experiences you've gone through. They could be personal ones you've faced alone, or those you experienced alongside family or friends. Think about what made these experiences challenging. Then, make a list of how you got through them (how you coped!), or are still getting through them.
And remember, in today's society, even receiving a cancer diagnosis is not a 100% guaranteed death sentence (worst case scenario) - with all the technology, medicine, and advanced treatments available. Many individuals who experience health anxiety think, "what if" I have a medical condition? "What if" I get cancer? "What if" I contract a disease? While no one knows for sure whether any of these situations will play out, we do know that there are treatments, doctors, and friends/family who will help us through. It's important to remind ourselves that just because uncertainty lingers, that does not mean a catastrophic result will take place. An uncomfortable, inconvenient, and upsetting situation may transpire, but again, there are ways to cope - and that's only IF a negative situation does in fact take place. Some may worry their whole lives about getting a rare disease, cancer, or dying prematurely. The only certainty in holding on to that thinking is that we miss out on the joys of today, and the positivity right in front of us.
The more we attempt to control the uncontrollable, the more out of control we feel. Take one day at a time, cope along the way, and remember, you have gotten through each and every uncertain moment your whole life.
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