7 Keys to Handle and Tolerate Uncertainty

To tolerate uncertainty we must accept that uncertainty exists. In this way, we're oriented to think in terms of resources and not in terms of shortages.
7 Keys to Handle and Tolerate Uncertainty
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 07 August, 2022

Will it really happen? What if it does? What if it doesn’t? This is how not being able to tolerate uncertainty often sounds like in the brain. When we can’t tolerate uncertainty, we’re often plagued by questions about the future, about remote scenarios that may disorient us.

However, this excessive worry makes it seem even more important and frightening. In turn, this makes our fears and worries grow.

Moreover, an inability to tolerate uncertainty also operates in the opposite direction: instead of allowing us to think of solutions, it blocks us to a dead end. To learn to tolerate uncertainty, the key is to accept that it exists.

It’s about investigating a situation to differentiate the aspects under our control from others beyond our control. It’s necessary to start from this point of humility; this will also help us to tolerate frustration better.

Some of the keys to managing uncertainty are as follows.

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1. Anticipate but don’t worry

One recommendation for tolerating uncertainty is to focus our efforts on the aspects that we can foresee and anticipate. In this way, we take our attention away from the probable situations that only generate anxiety and worry.

Getting busy makes us proactive. Worrying makes us stagnant and anxious.

Anxiety due to uncertainty paralyzes us and feeds a vicious circle of worry.

2. Imagine what you’re afraid of and associate it with your resources

Surely a situation that causes you anxiety has already paraded over and over again through your mind, causing anxiety and a feeling of loss of control. Now, you should try one more step and ask yourself what resources and strengths you have to face it.

Imagining a positive resolution is a way to reduce the discomfort. In turn, it opens the door to come up with solutions to the problem.

3. Learn to identify your emotions and accept them

Knowing how we feel about certain issues and what things provoke certain emotions is necessary. It’s not essential that we present to be strong in front of others when what we really need is containment.

Learning to express and master emotions instead of avoiding them or running away from them allows us to be better prepared and be more in control of ourselves.

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4. Avoid acting compulsively

A very clear example of this is what happened in many places during the pandemic. Suddenly, the world was faced with an adverse, unprecedented situation about which little was known.

It was logical that the first reactions were uncertainty and anguish. However, having the TV on all day to check the number of people hospitalized was counterproductive: it only generated more anxiety and distress.

That is why avoiding reinsurance behaviors that cause a rebound effect is important. In turn, it’s necessary to choose our sources of information very well.

5. Find some anchor points to tolerate uncertainty

Many times we may step blindly on a path or when we make a decision. However, it’s possible to look for anchoring points and foundations to support us. Some great examples of anchor points are the following:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • A passion for what we do
  • A vocation

Everyone should know what’s important to them and where to find a refuge when uncertainty appears.

6. Practice relaxation techniques

For example, you can do this through breathing exercises that help you to stay calm. The practice of mindfulness, with its “here and now” slogan, also plays a very important role in this.

7. Argue with your thoughts to tolerate uncertainty

We must know that our thoughts are not reality, but a construction of the mind. Therefore, we also have to dare to argue with them, question the supposed truth under which these statements are hidden, and relativize what is presented as threatening.

Many times, we tend to magnify certain negative aspects and overestimate their usefulness and probability. Another possible path is to ask ourselves what we’re missing or what we a==’re leaving aside by thinking so much about a certain subject.

Examine your thoughts to tolerate uncertainty
Learning to meditate and observe our thoughts is a very healthy regular practice that reduces anxiety.

The consequences not being able to tolerate uncertainty

Living in search of certainty not only deprives us of the enjoyment of the present but also turns the future into something to be feared. It subjects us to states of chronic stress and can lead us into complex conditions, such as:

There are certain issues that have no conclusive answers. In these cases, we may not always get the ending we want. Hoewver, the more we search and obsess about something, the more insecure we will feel, because we will be driven by cognitive biases.

Finally, as Rebecca Solnit points out in her book The Field Guide to Getting Lost, the fact of not knowing and moving in an unknown terrain can be the tip of the thread to finding a different way out, to learning to look at things with different eyes, and to find ourselves. In this way, uncertainty can be a great way to develop our creativity.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Moscoso, M. S. (2010). El estrés crónico y la Terapia Cognitiva Centrada en Mindfulness: Una nueva dimensión en psiconeuroinmunología. Persona: Revista de la Facultad de Psicología, (13), 11-29.
  • García-Diex, Gustavo, & García-De-Silva, Rafael, & Moñivas, Agustín (2012). MINDFULNESS (ATENCIÓN PLENA): CONCEPTO Y TEORÍA. Portularia, XII( ),83-89.[fecha de Consulta 3 de Julio de 2022]. ISSN: 1578-0236. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=161024437009

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.