How to Live with Discomfort and Uncertainty

Lately, I see a lot of memes, emails, and posts about ridding ourselves of 2020. Though I understand the sentiment, I have a hard time fully subscribing to this concept. While a lot of 2020 has been brutal, we can also find growth, adaptability and strength in this difficulty. I think what is really being reflected in this sentiment is that people really don’t like discomfort and uncertainty. So, for those of you who are hoping for things to get better on January 1, 2021, I have some good news and some bad news.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first

Nothing magical or that different will probably even happen on January 1 of 2021. You may not feel much better about this year’s election, we may still be uncertain about the availability, effectiveness, and safety of the vaccine, you may still be working from home and having children learning from home, at least occasionally, due to exposure to the virus or cold symptoms. Don’t worry, I see you and I believe in your ability to handle and keep doing this.

Here’s the good news

You can cope with uncertainty and discomfort way better than you think you can. 

3 main points and take-aways (including some things you can do to feel better!)

1) Most people’s anxiety around discomfort and uncertainty is rooted in believing you should know right now how to cope with something you’ve never experienced before.

Now, take a look back at 2020. Yes, no one anticipated that we’d be this uncertain and uncomfortable for this long. I’m with you. Even though I talk a lot about tolerating uncertainty, I never said I like it. It’s this simple—if you’re reading this, you’re still here.  As a therapist, I hear people predict catastrophic outcomes to uncomfortable and uncertain situations: “I’ll fall apart…,” “I’ll go crazy…,” “I won’t be able to handle it.” This is what I know, though, about humans—most of the time, we learn how to cope with what is given to us. Even in devastating circumstances, there is a way.    

2) Growth is almost always uncomfortable.

You may not have liked 2020, but did you grow? Did you manage, figure out, cope with, or accomplish things that at one point seemed impossible?  Did you connect with yourself or others on a deeper level? While a lot of the time, the result of growth is good, getting there is not pretty. For years, I sat looking at the print on my mentor’s wall that said, “Comfort is a really nice place, but nothing grows there.” While I know this saying to be true, I don’t usually like it when I’m experiencing the discomfort of uncertainty or growth.  In cognitive behavioral therapy, we connect how our emotions and physical experiences influence our thoughts and how our thoughts drive our behavior. If you have the thought, “I can’t handle this,” every time you get a signal of discomfort from your physical body or emotions, you’ll likely engage in avoidant behaviors and reinforce the belief that you “just can’t.” The problem with that belief is that you CAN; you will find a way! You are selling yourself short every time you reinforce the idea that you can’t handle discomfort or uncertainty.

3) The minute you decide something is good or bad, it’s over.

Instead, stay curious. People, projects, and relationships, like most things, take time to grow. When we are looking around for certainty, we are not only reinforcing the anxious brain but sometimes even making up a negative outcome! Confront and remind the anxious part of your brain that you actually possess a whole, beautiful brain! Let’s connect the other parts as well: you can experience a range of emotions, many kinds of physical sensations as well as make choices about where to go and at what pace. You may notice what is around you and even enjoy parts of the journey. You would miss it if you had your head down, just trying to get there already. Remember to have a sense of adventure along the way. I appreciate the functional nature of anxiety, to help us plan and prepare. But hold it lightly, with open hands. Let it guide you but keep your eyes open. You never know what you’ll find along the way. Resist discouragement. Resist the rush to the finish line. Here’s the best news of all—if you avoid the tendency to achieve certainty, you leave room for the possibility of a favorable or unexpected outcome that might be ok. 

Here’s What You Can Do

  • Identify what you really care about. Make a list of the first 5 things you think of (family, work, health, community, love, beauty, life, justice, etc.). If you want to do a more in-depth exploration, I like this exercise, the Values Card Sort. The goal is to narrow the cards down to your top 5 most important values.
  • Put your values in action. In service of my value of ________, I’m willing to experience (fill in the blank discomfort). Stay curious, put one foot in front of the other, and just see what you can do!
  • Practice self-care. All of this growth and tolerating uncertainty can be exhausting! Take a bath, take a walk, look at beautiful art online, watch a show, or listen to a podcast that makes you laugh. Look for beauty, look for the good; it’s there.   

Here’s Your Bonus

One of my favorite ways to practice self-care is with music. It helps me cope, it brings me joy, and helps me release tension. Music turns my worry and discomfort into (not so pretty) singing and dancing! Here’s one for you to play on repeat until you believe it: You’re Gonna Be OK. And if you need a light-hearted break and movement, who can resist a smile when doing this? 10 min workout: Sweatin’ to the Oldies!

We’re Here for You

We believe in you and are here for you. At Help for Wellness, we believe in the power of each individual taking responsibility for life and letting the benefits ripple out from there. Be the good! We are especially good at helping people learn how to respond to and work with their anxious brains, tolerate discomfort and uncertainty, and even find ways to thrive in challenging times!

Contact us today!

Help for Wellness (HFW) provides therapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups to help them unlock their potential to live healthier, happier, and more fulfilled lives. Learn more about the specific services we offer and contact us to schedule your free 20-minute consultation today!

Lisa Murphy
Lisa Murphy (#25280), a licensed Clinical Social Worker, works with individuals struggling to manifest healthy behaviors personally and/or within relationships. She is passionate about helping clients identify and break free of unhealthy patterns to establish healthier behaviors and relationships.