How to cope with uncertainty

profile picture of Bianca Clarke
Cognitive Behaviour Therapist
26 March 2023
Next review due March 2026

Life can be uncertain at times. Sometimes, you might feel worried or anxious about what will happen in the future. You might worry about your financial security, your health, or the health of friends and family. At times, uncertainty can make us feel overwhelmed. Here, I provide some tips to help you manage these feelings, and look after your mental health during times of stress and uncertainty.

thoughtful woman looking out of a window

Why am I afraid of uncertainty?

Everyone copes with stress and uncertainty differently. It’s believed that our life experiences and individual circumstances can affect how well we manage stress. Some factors can make it more difficult for us to manage worry and feelings of uncertainty. These can include:

  • long-term physical health conditions
  • living far away from loved ones
  • financial difficulties
  • mental health problems

You might feel that other people appear to cope with uncertainty better than you do. But it’s OK to react differently to others. We all have different personalities and have had different experiences that can impact how well we cope.

How do you accept uncertainty in life?

When we aren’t sure how things will turn out, feelings of uncertainty can be very unsettling. This can be hard to accept. Letting your mind play out potential scenarios or ‘worst case’ situations can cause anxiety and stress. And it can also affect how well you sleep, which can affect your mental wellbeing.

We can’t know for certain what will happen in the future. But, what we can do is control how we respond to unexpected events and shift our attention to the present moment. You can control:

  • the decisions you make
  • how you speak to others
  • how much news you watch
  • how you look after yourself

Try to focus on these things when you’re feeling stressed or anxious about future uncertainty.

What can help me feel better?

Have self-compassion during difficult times. It’s important to be patient with yourself and develop a kind, encouraging inner voice. Try not to be critical of yourself or the thoughts you’re having.

It’s also important to look after yourself and practice some self-care. It can be difficult, but try to make an extra effort to:

You might also find complementary therapies helpful to reduce stress during times of uncertainty. Things like yoga, meditation and aromatherapy can all be great ways to help you relax.

Try to remind yourself that you’ve faced times of uncertainty before and got through them. We can often create the illusion in our minds that everything in our past was certain. In psychology this is known as ‘hindsight bias’. But in reality, lots of things we experienced in the past were once uncertain and unpredictable.

How can I control my worries?

If anxiety about the future is taking over, why not try the following.

  • Have a fixed ‘worry time’ during the day. Allow yourself to work through your thoughts and concerns during the time you’ve allocated. You might find it helpful to set a timer. When the time is up, move on and start another task or activity to keep your mind off your fears.
  • Keep a diary to write down your thoughts, feelings and worries about the future. This might also help you to notice any patterns in your mood, and the things you’re worrying about.
  • If watching the news or searching on the internet increases feelings of uncertainty or worry, try to limit how much time you spend browsing. What we read online can sometimes be unreliable and might make you feel worse. Set a time each day where you plan to catch up on the news, then switch off and focus on something at home you can control.
  • In times of uncertainty, it can help to reconnect with your interests and hobbies. So, try to spend time doing things you enjoy. This can help take your mind of your worries and help you to relax.

Who should I talk to?

Make a point of staying connected with friends and family. At times when you feel overwhelmed with feelings of stress and uncertainty, it can help to talk to others about how you’re feeling. Often, just talking through our worries can help us to feel better.

If you’re struggling to cope with uncertainty and feel that it’s impacting your daily life, speak to your GP.

profile picture of Bianca Clarke
Bianca Clarke
Cognitive Behaviour Therapist



Lucy Kapoutsos, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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