Coping with uncertainty

Humans crave certainty.

So it’s natural to feel worried, stressed or anxious when you are uncertain about something important to you. Especially if the cause of your uncertainty is outside your control and has been going on for a while.

There are things you can do to manage those feelings.

On this page

Recognise and accept how you feel

Focus on what you can control

Avoid information overload

Prioritise your wellbeing

Connect with people who care

Recognise and accept how you feel

Just like it’s OK to feel happy, it’s OK to feel sad, overwhelmed or scared.

Recognising and accepting your feelings, no matter what they are, can help you be more comfortable with them.

This can be hard. The following steps might help.

  1. Take some time out from your daily tasks.
  2. Find a safe place to sit and pay attention to how you feel.
  3. Try to be aware of the sensations in your body, like your heartbeat and breathing.
  4. Recognise how you’re feeling. It can help to say it out loud or write it down.
  5. Allow for those feelings without trying to change them.

Encourage positive feelings

It’s important for your mental health to make time in the day to experience positive feelings.

This could be joy, love or gratitude. It might be contentment, pride or excitement. Or it could be something else – there are many different types of positive feelings.

As a guide, try to schedule in time each day for something that:

  • you find fun, relaxing or calming
  • gives you a sense of satisfaction or achievement.

This will not only bring enjoyment in times of uncertainty. It may also help you feel a sense of control.

Focus on what you can control

When something out of your control is causing you to feel worry, stress or anxiety, think of the things you can control. This can help by:

  • bringing a sense of stability, security and calm
  • taking your mind off the cause of the uncertainty.

Here are some ways you might do this.

  • Think about the choices that are yours to make each day. Such as how you choose to spend your time. Who you talk to. What you do to prepare yourself for the day.
  • Break your day down into manageable goals. Then focus on the small tasks that will help you achieve those goals.
  • Ask yourself what you need each day to feel satisfied, safe and connected.

Writing out your thoughts or plans can help make them clear. It will also give you something to return to if things start to feel out of control in future.

Nurture daily routines

Following basic day-to-day rituals and routines can also help you manage the feelings caused by uncertainty.

These may be as simple as waking up or eating a meal at the same time each day. Following the same method to make your favourite snack or drink. Or having a consistent routine to prepare for bed.  

Small routines and rituals can remind you that there are things within your control. They can help reduce the build-up of stress over the day. And they can bring a sense of structure, rhythm and certainty.

Avoid information overload

It’s natural to want information about whatever’s causing your uncertainty. But consuming more information than you can process may add to feelings of confusion, stress and overwhelm.

No matter where you look for information, it helps to be conscious of what – and how much – you’re exposed to.

Assess the credibility

Do you trust where the information came from? Is it based on evidence?

Limit the time you spend

Allow yourself a set amount of time searching for and consuming content and stick to that.

Set boundaries

Be honest and firm with others about subjects you may not feel comfortable discussing.

Read more about these and other ways to ease information overload.

Prioritise your wellbeing

Practising basic self-care as part of your daily routine can help support your mental health and your overall sense of wellbeing.

  • Keep active. This can improve both your physical fitness and your mental health. Physical activity releases hormones called endorphins that improve your mood and sleep.
  • Prioritise rest and sleep. Sleeping well can reduce feelings of worry. A good night’s sleep can also bring a more balanced perspective on your concerns when you wake up.
  • Be conscious of what you eat. Following a balanced diet can help improve your wellbeing.

Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques help you focus your attention on the present. They can help you feel less overwhelmed and better able to manage the uncertainty you are experiencing.

Examples of these include:

  • guided meditation and mindfulness exercises – spend as little as ten minutes per day on this free app by Smiling Mind
  • relaxation techniques such as breathing and muscle relaxation exercises and guided visualisation
  • unplugging from technology for a period of time.

Connect with people who care

When you’re coping with uncertainty, interacting with other people might feel hard.

It’s important to try. Whether it’s in person, by text or chatting online in places like the Beyond Blue Forums.

Contact with other people can bring comfort. It can help you feel secure and supported. It may also provide a sense of focus or purpose.

Generally, feeling connected is good for your mental health.

You don’t have to talk about the uncertainty or how it's making you feel if you’re not comfortable. It’s the connection itself – not what you discuss – that’s important.