Managing Uncertainty: 6 Places to Start

“I‘ve been so depressed lately. But with all the uncertainty in the world these days, I can’t see how I’ll feel better any time soon.” Have you, or someone you know, said that?

Mark dropped me a line a few days ago. He’d read an article I’d written on the negative impact of uncertainty on those enduring emotional and mental health disorders.

Mark shared that he suffers from depression, along with many family members. He asked if there were any tools to help people identify and deal with life’s uncertainties.

Cool thing is, he wants to help his Mom and Brother.

Let’s take a look at 6 Places to Start…

The Uncertainty Study

The article that caught Mark’s attention featured the research of Dr. Jack Nitschke, a psychiatry/psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Nitschke’s study underscored the powerful negative impact uncertainty can have on our emotional and mental health. It’s not surprising that it most often makes an already nasty situation worse.

At the heart of Nitschke’s work is something known as emotional response. And it’s driven by neurophysiology.

How the Study Looked

In his research, Dr. Nitschke used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the activity of the subject’s amygdala and insular cortex. Both play an important role in the mood and anxiety disorders. Click on either to learn about them.

The subjects wore goggles and were presented with a series of images. But before these images were presented, the subjects viewed an image that cued them as to what they were about to see.

One such image signaled the coming image would be neutral. Another tipped-off the subjects that the image to follow would be disturbing. Finally, an image was presented that indicated the image to come was uncertain.

Go figure, the results showed a much stronger response from the amygdala and insular cortex when the cue indicated an uncertain image was to follow.

Mark’s Question (and answers)

Answering Mark’s question is actually a two-part process. Let’s first address helping people identify the uncertainties in their life. Then we can move-on to dealing with them.

Identifying Uncertainties

I can’t think of a better way to identify uncertainties than to make a good-old-fashioned list. And I think the task will be easier if the list is categorized.

Depending on your life situation, you may want to use Employment, Relationships, Family, Social, Financial, School. See where I’m going?

And then it’s time to do some feeling, thinking, and writing. By the way, the list doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting. I’m very productive when I jot things down as they come to me. So take as long as you need.

And why not ask for the input of family members and friends?

Managing Uncertainty: 6 Places to Start

Now it’s on to managing those uncertainties. But, first, let’s chat about emotional response.

Simply, it’s the reaction to a feeling(s) that’s accompanied by physiological changes (like in Dr. Nitschke’s study). Now, the changes may not show outwardly; however, some sort of action or behavior will definitely take place.

It’s crucial to understand that the reaction is grounded in our patterns of thought and belief. In this case, it’s not about the person or event generating our uncertainty!

So it’s a matter of interpretation.

Now that we have that settled, here are those 6 Places to Start

  1. Understand and accept the role interpretation (and overreaction) plays in our emotional response and misery.
  2. Come to know that uncertainty isn’t rooted in people and events. It’s about our patterns of thought and belief.
  3. Take a look at each of the uncertainties on the list you made. Jot-down a bold “I” next to those you believe are truly a matter of questionable interpretation.
  4. Think about the foundational thoughts and beliefs behind those interpretations. Go ahead, jot ’em down.
  5. Go with what you can do something about. Work on changing your patterns of thought and belief instead of obsessing over the uncertainty.
  6. Practice daily and watch those troubling uncertainties fall by the wayside.


Thanks Mark. I love hearing from my readers, and your question and the article it generated are one of the major reasons.

Sharing is how we all learn. And what better way to learn than through real-life situations?

In closing, here’s a sweet quote from Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior

“Faith means living with uncertainty – feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark.”