If there is one thing we have learnt over the past few years, it is that uncertainty is everywhere. Many of the things we once took for granted have been swept away.
If there is one thing we have learnt over the past few years, it is that uncertainty is everywhere. Many of the things we once took for granted have been swept away. We worry about our health, our jobs, our travel plans. Most worrying of all, we don’t know when things will get easier. What many of us don’t realise, however, is that we were already living with increased uncertainty long before COVID arrived. “The nature of change has changed,” says psychologist Amanda Ferguson. “Twenty years ago, I was helping organisations with change management and change was a linear process; we faced consecutive changes as we moved through life. “These days, change is exponential, it’s coming in waves. “It’s happening on so many fronts: globalisation, work-life balance, environmental changes. Life has become completely uncertain. We can no longer choose a level of independence – it is forced on to us.” Dealing with so much change has left many people feeling fatigued, fearful and worn out. If you have been struggling with the amount of uncertainty in your life, the first thing to understand is that some people are innately better at it than others. “There’s a concept called intolerance of uncertainty and we all sit on the scale somewhere,” Dr Ferguson says. “Some people are really comfortable with uncertainty, but for others it’s threatening.” Almost 20 per cent of the population is believed to have a high intolerance of uncertainty, she says, and that can have serious health ramifications. “General anxiety disorder was the first condition connected with intolerance of uncertainty, but now a host of other physical, psychological, cognitive and developmental disorders has been linked with it.” The good news is, while you can’t control what’s going on in the world, you can find ways to better roll with those changes and to manage the anxiety it can cause. ________________________________ Feeling anxious about change? Try these approaches 1. Don’t beat yourself up. You have to accept your feelings before you can begin to deal with them. “The first step in self-care is to be kind to yourself.” 2. Avoid “triggers”. Don’t know what your triggers are? Spend a week trying to identify what situations or behaviours set you off on a stream of worrying thoughts. It could involve something as simple as changing your TV viewing habits. “Some people find limiting their exposure to news quite helpful,” Dr Ferguson says. “The evening news can be quite invasive and you don’t control what you are exposed to – you may suddenly see images of, say, a car crash, which can feel quite assaulting.” 3. Build more unpredictability into your day. If you know you are a creature of habit, deliberately introducing small changes into your routine can be a simple way to feel more comfortable with change. “If you usually check your letterbox when you leave the house, try checking it when you arrive home instead. If you always go the same way for your daily walk, try a different way. Broaden what counts as your comfort zone.” 4. Don’t panic. It’s a vicious cycle: when we get anxious, our breathing gets rapider and shallower, which actually heightens our anxiety. “Search up some breathing exercises to help smooth out anxious feelings.” 5. Reach out for help. If you have problems dealing with uncertainty, know that help is available. “There are all kinds of treatments available, including cognitive behaviour therapy, which helps you reprogram the way your mind processes information,” says Dr Ferguson. “An online search will help you find a practitioner near you.”
For more on coping & stress management, listen to Dr Amanda Ferguson’s podcast Psych for Life here.