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Mental Health Matters: The Psychology of Uncertainty

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We have all spent time dealing with uncertainty.  Whether it was waiting for the check to come in the mail, a call from the doctor’s office with test results, or the news that you got the job you had been waiting for.  In many cases, the time between the event and the results can be a period of uncertainty and while this is a part of life, the meantime in between time can be stressful and a source of discomfort.  

The same happens when the seasons change and when major life changes happen such as the recent election season.  As one administration switches to the next, many find themselves in a season of uncertainty.  That can be workers who fear losing their jobs in the transition process.  It can be residents worrying about changes in tax, public safety, and transportation. While change is certain in many circumstances and situations, it does not always mean that something bad or negative will happen.  
Many people have been able to retain positions, or even be promoted when major changes happen in companies and governmental administrations. There are instances where major life improvements happen once power positions shift.  The thing to remember is that the worst is not always the outcome.  There are times when things change for the better.  Why is it that when we find ourselves waiting, we tend to think of the worst cases scenarios?

According to Helen Santoro in an article published by the American Psychological Association, “Many of us spend the time anxiously ruminating over every possible outcome and anticipating the worst one.”  The truth of the matter is that psychologists have not really studied this phenomenon in detail but Kate Sweeny, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside) has been working with researchers to learn more about the Science of Uncertainty.  
While researchers are working diligently to figure out the science, here are a few tips to help you navigate a season of uncertainty.  

1. Find ways to distract yourself
This could be as simple as reading a good book or magazine, enjoying reruns of your favorite television show, or listening to your favorite music. If you have a hobby that you have not been able to engage in, go back to your hobby.  Start a new workout routine or switch up your current routine. The point is to allow yourself some time to not think about whatever the impending situation or outcome may be.  

2. Keep things in perspective
If you are waiting on a health diagnosis, do your best to not focus on the negative. In the meantime, you can make sure to do your research so that any questions or concerns you may have can be addressed with your medical professional.  If you are awaiting test results review the information that you may have found problematic while waiting for the results.  If you are waiting on a payment (tax return, settlement, etc.) look for ways to save or invest as much of the money as you can.  Don’t spend in advance of receiving the payment can be another way to keep things in perspective.  

3. Manage your expectations
It is important to control your thoughts about the situation.  This can help reduce anxiety about the situation during the waiting period.  Be open to suggestions and possible changes once the waiting period is over.  Try as much as possible to maintain a positive outlook.  
While there is still a great deal to learn about the Psychology of Uncertainty, when we encounter uncertain situations, it is important to know that there are ways to minimize or eliminate the anxiety or stress that comes with uncertainty.  The tips shared here are just a few to help you navigate that space of uncertainty.

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