Exercises for Coping with Uncertainty

There are many ways to cope positively with uncertainty, and it is most important for individuals to find what works for them.

No matter our circumstances, uncertainty is a part of our lives. We may experience uncertainty about what events may impact us or our loved ones today, tomorrow, or fifteen years from now. People facing financial and medical hardships may be faced with a larger degree of uncertainty. In the face of such challenges, even getting out of bed in the morning is a form of healthy coping.

We can all recall times in our lives when we coped successfully and managed the stress of the unknown. It is important to look back at those times and recognize what worked to help us cope. Perhaps we can fall back on those methods — or add some new strategies — in order to find our own style of coping with uncertainty. Adaptation is important when under stress.

Continue reading to learn some techniques that you may be able to add to your coping exercises. Experiment with them and see which appeal to you and can help you cope best.

Relaxation Breathing and Imagery

Relaxation Breathing can help you address anxiety and stress by taking deep, abdominal breaths. Here is an example of how to use relaxation breathing.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position (if you are unable to sit or close your eyes, this can still be done).
  2. Place your hands on your lap and your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Close your eyes, or if you are uncomfortable doing so, you can fix your eyes on a still object in front of you.
  4. Take a deep breath in (over 4 seconds), and feel the air fill your lower abdomen (try not to lift your shoulders).
  5. Hold the breath for 3 to 6 seconds, and let it go slowly over 4 to 8 seconds.
  6. Repeat this breathing pattern 3 to 5 times or until you have some sense of relaxation and an ability to focus on the present.

You can also incorporate imagery to help with your relaxation. For example, as you exhale, imagine that you are blowing lightly on a candle so that it does not blow out but just flickers. While doing this, notice any parts of your body where there is tension – maybe your neck, feet, or shoulders are tense. As you find those parts of tension, try and mindfully relax in those areas.


Grounding can be used to help re-connect with the here and now. Worry can lead us to become distracted and unable to focus on the task at hand. Taking a moment to “ground” ourselves can help in coping with uncertainty. Here are two ways to use grounding to address uncertainty:

  • Physical grounding: Sit in your chair, feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair.
  • Visual grounding: Look around the room and make note of everything with the color red (or another color).

Worry Box

The Worry Box technique is useful when worries become repetitive and unproductive. It is common for worries to “take over,” especially at night when you may be trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep. Write down key phrases that describe your worries on small pieces of paper. Put them into a box, place the box in your freezer, and leave it there overnight. When the thoughts come to your mind, remember: they’re in a deep freeze! Let them stay there. Remember to go back to them in the light of day when you can use your problem-solving skills.

Additional Tips

The above techniques and exercises aren’t the only ways to address your stress. Here are some other things that people can find beneficial.

Sometimes, a good cry can help you cope with the stress of uncertainty. Letting out your emotions can feel like a release. It can be helpful to acknowledge one’s helplessness in the face of overwhelming demands and uncertainty. Some people prefer to do this alone and others with the comfort of friends or family.

Many people may benefit from reading or listening to something spiritual or inspirational to help provide grounding, connection, or meaning in the face of uncertainty. This may include a favorite book, religious text, or other inspirational text. Participation in religious activity is also comforting to some as a way to connect to support during uncertain times. Other spiritual resources can be found in your community.

Positive self-talk can be used to help remember the innate strength one has. This is in the same spirit as “the little engine that could” – when we remind ourselves of our strength, it may help us to cope with the unknown. Some examples of positive self-statements are:

  • I can make it through this.
  • I am strong.
  • I have been through hard times before and I survived.
  • I can balance fear and uncertainty with problem-solving and certainty.

When we are experiencing uncertainty about something big, it may be useful to break it down and analyze what areas are in our control. For example, if a person is awaiting a call from a doctor about a serious medical test, she cannot make the test results arrive sooner, but she may be able to think about what to ask when the doctor calls. Being able to gain some knowledge in the situation may help her feel more in control of the situation.

Some people benefit from “staying busy” or finding small tasks to focus on. This can help distract oneself from the overwhelming amount of worry.

Last, but certainly not least, depending upon the strength and support of others in uncertain times can be extremely valuable. Sometimes we have to admit that whatever we are coping with is too much for us to bear, and we must allow others to support us. Accepting offers of help can be difficult, but it is extremely valuable in times of distress.

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