By Mary Reitano
Photo credit: Mary Reitano
“Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” President John F. Kennedy
Summer is around the corner, which usually means creating fun memories with friends and family. But sometimes, troubling world events dampen our enjoyment. Recently, a friend confessed her struggles with uncertainty due to the pandemic, economic issues, and the Ukrainian conflict. When our world seems unstable, hope and peace elude us. Author Gabrielle Bernstein wrote “Fear is often our immediate response to uncertainty. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing fear. The key is not to get stuck in it.” Unfortunately, we sometimes assume the worst-case scenario is going to happen.
Andrea Bonior, clinical psychologist, suggests strategies for calming anxiety. She suggests we “zoom in to the little moments.” Being hypervigilant to threats keeps stress in overdrive, depleting energy and concentration. So, intentionally focus on the present. Savor small moments of joy, comfort, or humor. Watch a beautiful sunset or enjoy laughing with family. We can also “zoom out to our sense of meaning,” Often, struggles magnify values more than easy phases. What story will you tell yourself about this time? What is most important? Fulfillment derives from a deep sense of meaning, a balm against an uncertain future. Bonoir also recommends finding controllability where possible. Many aspects of life are uncertain–but not all. Don’t waste energy trying to control the uncontrollable. Find small areas that bring comfort because you can control them. Lastly, “use sensory comforts to ground yourself.” Think of calming sights, sounds, smells, etc. Maybe a hot bath, a favorite song, or the smell of a fresh flower? Sensory experiences distract from worry, give present focus, and calm you.
Dane Jensen wrote in Harvard Business Review about actions to take during uncertain times. He said it is easy to lose hope in uncertain times. Jensen wrote that “in times of great turbulence, hope can feel naïve — or worse, like a set-up for future disappointment….” Shane Lopez, senior scientist at Gallup, defined hope as believing the future will be better than today, along with believing you can make it happen. Optimism combined with personal agency differentiate hope from simple bravado or wishful thinking. Hope also requires believing we can create the imagined future, with planning. What is the path to the future vision? What is the next step? The final component is accepting we cannot control the future. And if things don’t go as planned, seeing adversity as a setback rather than abandoning hope.
Accepting uncertainty also prevents anxiety from escalating. For many, acceptance comes from a spiritual perspective. Christians find comfort in God’s unchanging nature despite our changing world. Dan Millman wrote “faith means living with uncertainty – feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark.” President Obama said, “hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope…that is God’s greatest gift to us,” a belief in better days ahead.