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Uncertainty can be awful to deal with.  In addition to throwing you off balance and into a very negative place, it can affect your relationships with family and friends, work, and finances.

This article provides tips to help cope with uncertainty and to determine whether it would be advisable to seek professional help to deal with it.

Following are tips which have helped other people cope with uncertainty with respect to a serious health condition. There is no cookie cutter answer for everyone –we are all unique individuals. What helps you may be different than what helps the person next to you.

As you think about which of the following is a good fit for you, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be either/or. You can consider more than one of the following which are presented in no particular order:

  • Let your health care team know if you are having difficulty dealing with uncertainty. A medication may be available to help you cope. Your team can also help you assess whether to seek professional advice – and, if so, from what type of professional (social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.  They may also have a suggestion about a particular person for you to see. Communication between your physical health care team and mental health care team can be important.
  • Consider joining a support group. If you have not been part of a support group of people in a similar situation. You are likely to be surprised at all the practical tips and information that you will learn in addition to the support you will receive. Support groups are available by telephone or the internet as well as in person. For more information, including the advantages of joining a support group, click here.
  • Peer to peer support.  "Buddies" is how we refer to people in a situation similar to yours.   For tips about how to find a buddy, click here.
  • Spiritual guidance. Speak with a clergy person. He or she does not have to be a member of your particular religion in order to be able to help.For information, click here.
  • Pharmacologic intervention There may be medicines such as antidepressants or anti anxiety drugs that may help.
  • Destress. 
    • Go into nature 
    • Laugh with friends 
    • Listen to music 
    • Take walks
    • Swim 
    • Just sitting outside can help.
  • Consider Integrative approaches. For instance, acupuncture, meditation, muscle relaxation techniques or all different types of yoga (from elderly yoga, to more exercise yoga when feeling better – to laugh yoga which is contagious and feel better afterward).   
    • Free apps are available for smart phones. For instance: 5 Minute Yoga and Down Dog. In Search in your app store for free apps for yoga and mind body practices
    • Deep breathing techniques and mindfulness (google each as apps) mindfulness: e.g. take a break; headspace;  calm and relaxed melodies; mind body connect  - they are easily accessible and take 5 minutes or less – sometimes that is enough time to catch your breath, plant your feet and move forward)
    • To learn more about specific integrative techniques, click here
  • Engage in healthy distractions that engage you so that you lose track of time such as taking time with a hobby or going to an entertainment that engages you. Sex can be a distraction.
  • Engage in timed worry: set aside one or more times during the day to do nothing but worry. If worries appear at other times, remind yourself that they are only thoughts, that you can control your thoughts, and that you will think about that worry during the right time. Maybe even make a written note of it so you can get it out of your head..
  • Laugh. To learn how to bring humor into your life, click here.  
  • Write a journal or express yourself through the arts.
  • Exercise. Exercise is not only good for your body. It can also help improve your outlook. Exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym. Consider walking or swimming. For information, including how to incorporate exercise into your daily life, click here.
  • Recalibrate your hopeNever lose hope. There is always something to hope for -- even at end of life. For example, you can hope for relationships to mend; hoping that you leave something memorable behind hoping for a comfortable, pain free death.   For information about hope, click here.
  • Focus on living today – well – and being happy. Find joy as a part of your day. Gilda Radner put it this way: “While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die – whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness."
  • Set small goals and things to look forward to.
  • Accept that there is no “normal.” Every day can be different, even if only slightly so.
  • Practice self-care. Be gentle with yourself
  • Be thankful and enjoy small things. Dwell on blessings. Do what you can to keep a positive attitude.
  • Accept that we are all going to die soon – but not today!  Even if death will not come for twenty years, time flies by in a wink of an eye.  Ask any “old” person you know.
  • Find new activities and projects more suited to your current condition – and to what it is likely to be in the future.
  • Bury yourself in work or adjust your work load down a bit. Consider working at home when possible.
  • Learn to prioritize. Pick and choose what you can do. Dial expectations down. Do the things that are really important to you.
  • Reach out to others – you do not have to do this alone. Acknowledge to the people close to you when you are nervous. Once you recognize and express it, other people can react and help you through. You’ll be able to breathe easier by letting the stress out.
  • Refuse to consider yourself disabled by your health condition. It may take a bit of planning to do what you used to. For example, plan activities for the part of the day when you are feeling better. Instead of going over a distance in a four day hike, do it in six or seven days.
  • Recognize fear for what it is. For tips to overcome fear, click here.
  • Aim for good things in future
  • Practice self care- be gentle with yourself 

Do you need professional help?

Claire Saxton, MSW, suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I having crying spells that seem to come out of nowhere that I cannot control?
  • Have I lost interest in things in life that I used to find pleasurable?
  • Have I stopped looking forward to events and occasions that used to bring me joy?
  • Are my emotions in control of me, or am I in control of my emotions?
  • Am I too tired to engage in things I’m passionate about?
    Have I generally lost interest in most things?
  • How is my sleep? Am I sleeping excessively or not enough?
  • Do I lie in bed with my head under the covers?
  • Am I overeating or have I lost my normal appetite?
  • Am I having difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions?
  • Am I feeling irritable, grouchy, guilty or helpless?
  • Have I stopped reaching out to those people that I consider friends and family?
  • Am I feeling suicidal?  If you are please immediately reach for help. Call 911. 

If you have answered “yes” to three or more questions, particularly if  you have had these feelings for a week or more, it is likely that you need additional support and/or help to navigate the uncertainty in your life.

  • Consider seeking professional help – preferably with a person who has experience with people in your situation and with grief and loss.  In a very real sense, every change includes loss. If you have health insurance, it is likely covered. If not, it does not have to be expensive. Many professionals work on a sliding scale basis so you pay what you can afford.  For more information, including how to choose a health care professional, click here. 
  • Consider joining a support group of people in a similar situation. You are likely to be surprised at all the practical tips and information that you will learn in addition to the support you will receive. Support groups are available by telephone or the internet as well as in person. For more information, click here. 

NOTE: If you feel suicidal, call 911. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

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