Learning from uncertainty Learning from uncertainty

It is normal to feel afraid and confused in moments of crisis. Knowing how to manage the emotions that arise can help you feel better. Learn a few techniques for doing so.

Advisor: Ilse Rodríguez S.
Professional Life Coach

If you could choose between two paths: one well-known and familiar, and another completely unfamiliar, which one would you choose? It is often said that growth and creativity lie outside the so-called “comfort zone,” but crisis situations in life, which bring uncertainty, are not optional. Precisely the opposite; they arise unexpectedly.

“The defining word of our time is fear. And fear is born out of uncertainty,” said Spanish writer Javier Cercas in a recent panel about life in a world affected by the coronavirus pandemic. That feeling of fear is part of a reaction of self-preservation activated by the brain when it detects some kind of danger or warning. That is the explanation given by professional life coach Ilse Rodríguez, who focuses on helping people discover new opportunities and behaviors.

What is going to happen? How do I get through this? Those are some of the questions that begin to cross one’s mind and become obsessive thoughts. “The brain does not like uncertainty, which forces it out of the familiar, of the normal response,” the specialist notes. This is how emotions like anxiety, sadness, and uneasiness are triggered, emotions that could be labeled “survival emotions” and are also considered to be negative, though it is not always the case. It is normal to be overwhelmed.

The discomfort of the unknown

There is a tendency in Western society to want to have control, to know what the next step to follow is, to stick to the plan. “When we feel like we are losing control, like what we are experiencing right now in the world, there is room for doubt,” says Rodríguez. As such, overwhelming thoughts and anxiety can even produce symptoms like increased heart rate and blood pressure.

So, how can we counter uncertainty? “Those negative (or survival) emotions are not bad. More than seeing them as enemies, we have to manage them. The main thing is noticing what I am feeling and putting a name to it. We tend to want to pretend they are not there, experience them quickly, and that is when we are not managing them, but rather avoiding them,” the coach concludes.

To manage negative emotions:

  1. Analyze what you are feeling: anger, helplessness, fear, anxiety, etc. Name it and then ask yourself: “What is this emotion trying to teach me? Why is it here? What is it meant to protect me from?”
  2. Rationalize. It is not about ignoring the emotion, but rather making it less intense. It means taking a mental break and reflecting on the emotion. Determine the reality and truthfulness of the thoughts that it produces.
  3. Find resources. Think about positive experiences and difficulties overcome in the past. “I am capable of producing new ideas and thoughts. I am capable of overcoming problems.”
  4. Focus on the positive. The coach cites a study from the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania that says that positive emotions can be invoked, which can help you change your behavior or the way you react to a challenge.
  5. Situate yourself in the present. Longing for the past or imagining oneself in the future causes anxiety and heightens survival emotions. It is also time to “allow oneself to take things one day at a time, take charge of one’s own present, of each individual’s scope of action,” the specialist adds.
  6. Appreciate and show gratitude. Rather than ignoring the surrounding environment, it is about changing a scarcity mindset to thoughts of gratitude for what and who one has; one’s life, loved ones, home, and belongings.
  7. Learn. Experience uncertainty like a student would. “What can I learn from all this? How can I grow? Learning happens in neither the past nor the future. What’s real is the present, which lets you learn,” the coach explains.
  8. Breathe. do so consciously, so the body relaxes and the mind becomes quiet, lowering pressure. Opting to practice meditation can take this to an even deeper level.
  9. Distract yourself. In a positive way, by spending time with family, friends, or pets. Read, listen to music, and do activities that you enjoy. One idea is to write in a gratitude journal with three things for which you feel fortunate.
  10. Smile. It releases endorphins. Everyone always has a smile in them. “It is proven that when we laugh, we are present, and it is contagious. Just like the virus, smiling is contagious, and we actually can share it with those close to us,” concludes Ilse Rodríguez.

Appreciation, gratitude, and individual responsibility are attitudes that help you situate yourself in the present moment and better manage the anxiety brought on by uncertainty.