In This Moment: Dealing with Uncertainty & Finding Security
Dealing with uncertainty and managing anxiety have been topics previously in this blog. Yet right now, many of us are dealing with things that make this a very important topic.
At this point in the pandemic, things continue to be in a great deal of flux. In some respects we seem to be making some good progress. Here in Canada, an increasing number of people are getting vaccinated, which probably bodes well for the future. Yet what will happen in this major life transition even in the short run remains very hard to predict. We are living with a very changeable, fluid situation. The level of uncertainty is very high, in many different areas of our lives.
This uncertainty manifests in ways we may well not expect. As a recent article by Deja Leonard in the Globe and Mail newspaper pointed out, we may be moving back into situations that seem very familiar, and that were very familiar prior to the pandemic, but which have changed in unexpected ways. The article is entitled “Your colleagues may have changed more than you think – here’s how to reintroduce yourself”, and it deals with the uncertainties that can occur when people are called to return physically to the workplace. As Leonard puts it,
So you think you know your co-workers?…
[T]he last two years have changed a lot about who we are, sometimes at a fundamental level…. [C]hild care challenges, health and mental health issues, social unrest and more are affecting the way people will show up when they head back into the office…. [I]nstead of expecting people to follow the same patterns or routines as they did before—be open to the idea that their priorities may have changed [Italics mine].
So here we have an example of a setting that may have been stressful for individuals—the workplace—but where we may have felt that there were certain things, or certain relationships that we could count on to show up in a certain way. Leonard is suggesting that we can’t take that for granted at all, which introduces a whole new level of uncertainty into many peoples’ lives. This is only one example among many where the level of uncertainty is heightened by present conditions.
The Challenge of Uncertainty
It was true before the pandemic that we were living with much uncertainty. What is abundantly clear is that many are living with even more uncertainty since this pandemic began. What is also abundantly clear is that uncertainty is hard to live with. In many ways the human brain is designed to seek maximum security and predictability. In many situations in our world, our brains are having to cope with much less security and predictability than they would like.
One response to these people—and to ourselves—might be, “You don’t have enough certainty in your life? Too bad. Suck it up, buttercup, that’s just how the world is. Forget about it and just keep moving on with your life.” Unfortunately, though, high uncertainty is very often associated with high anxiety.
The answer to this is not urging people in a simplistic way to just “be more comfortable with your uncertainty”. I have heard this pronouncement made by psychologically aware individuals, whom many would rightly look to for leadership in times like these, but it doesn’t really help. The key question is, how can I be more comfortable with my uncertainty?
You Can Never Be Certain Enough
How do you live with uncertainty? The answer is, not very well, if you stay focused on it. In my practice, I have seen many people who are quite capable of understanding that the odds of a bad outcome in a situation were very low, “one in a million”, as they say, and that, rationally, the probability of “the bad thing” occurring was very low. That very reasonable awareness did not keep them from having high anxiety about a negative outcome.
When you’re dealing with raw anxiety, and the brain will not let go of it, it can be almost impossible to get the brain to “turn the anxiety off” by being rational and reasonable about things. This is because the anxiety is centered in parts of the brain and the psyche that are largely beyond the reach of reason, and the ego’s control. There must be some other focus, to help me be free, and to get through my life journey.
How can I find security and freedom from anxiety in the midst of uncertainty? Only by finding something to focus on other than the anxiety and the uncertainty. The individual must find things that are so compelling to him or her that those passions fill his or her life. In many cases the anxiety that the individual experiences is an energy, that really wants to flow into other areas of the individual’s life and to create, to love, to experience and to contemplate. Finding the path to this passion or energy is a very individual journey that may also involve other elements like the release of traumatic experience.
The process of getting to the guiding passion in an individual’s life and freeing the energy associated with it con often be greatly assisted through work with a trusted /a-midlife-transition. For many, this uncertain and anxious time may be a call to embark upon that soul work.
With every good wish for your personal journey,