here seems to be a feeling of general anxiety in society at the moment. People are anxious about the future. The economy is in a bad state, all the political talk about expropriation of land, massive unemployment, social unrest, corruption, dysfunctional municipalities, poor service delivery, high crime levels, global warming, the coronavirus… – the list goes on and on. Where are we heading? What does the future hold? Those are the sorts of questions that preoccupy us and keep us awake at night. These kinds of questions often lead to terrible anxiety because we realize that anything can happen. Nothing is certain. There are no guarantees. This is deeply unsettling, because the one single thing we yearn for most in life is to have certainty.
Uncertainty is hard to deal with. We want to know. Not knowing drives us crazy. Not knowing means we cannot prepare ourselves for whatever is coming. Most of us are familiar with that “not knowing” feeling that simmers just below the surface, causing a lot of anxiety, if not a full-blown panic attack.
So why is dealing with uncertainty so hard? The reason is quite simple: we want to be in control. The problem is, we can only control that which we have control over, and tomorrow with all its challenges is not yet here to control. This uncertainty about what awaits us drives us crazy, firstly because we don’t know what is coming and secondly, because we are not sure whether we will be able to handle whatever is coming. And that is when anxiety and panic kick in.
So what can we do?
- We can make peace with the fact that we are not in control of what will happen in the future. It is always wise to prepare as best we can, but let that not fool us into thinking that we are in control. Ask anyone who thought they had all their ducks in a row in order to retire in comfort, who then, for some reason or another, lost all their money overnight. Ask all the ‘share millionaires’ who went from riches to rags in one day.
- There is a reason why all the sages through the ages advised us to live life in the present moment and not to get ahead of ourselves. The great thing about staying in the moment is that, at that very moment, we are indeed fully in charge, because we can choose. We can choose how to respond to whatever is showing up. We always have a choice in this present moment. That mere thought should bring us a sense of certainty. When we do that, we move from a place of “not knowing” to one of knowing. I know I always have a choice. We worry too much. Research shows that 95% of the things we worry about never happen anyway, or at least not in the way we thought they would.
- We can try to make peace with “not knowing”, and we can learn to get comfortable there. Find something in your life that you are uncertain about and that is causing you anxiety. Sit with that discomfort for a few minutes. Don’t hypothesize. Don’t plan. Don’t take any action. Don’t look away from it. Don’t avoid it. Just feel that feeling in your stomach and in your body. Keep breathing and remind yourself that, whatever happens, you will deal with it when it shows up, because you are certain that you always have a choice on how you will respond to any situation … and then let it go.
We don’t need to know everything. How boring and predictable life would be, if we knew exactly how things will unfold. Life is an interesting journey. Just keep going. Cross the bridge when you get to it. You will know what to do when you get to the bridge.