MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

How Can You Manage The Inevitable Uncertainty Of Life?

Laura Hearn is a BBC Journalist, and founder of the mental health platform, ‘Jiggsy.’

Here she shares her personal thoughts and tips on managing the unexpected.

When life is uncertain, do you sit back and wait for life to happen to you, or do you take it by the balls, and say “bring it on?!”

It’s all too easy to fall into the “what-ifs” and worst-case scenario situations when life throws you a curve ball…or more recently…a global pandemic. Our minds like to plan for the future, and when we can’t, it is all too easy to spiral into a pit of worry and overthinking. I am of course speaking from personal experience here!

What has happened in the past six months, has been one of the most uncertain times in modern history. Life seemed to be plodding on…and then bam…it hit many of us like a ton of bricks without a second to prepare.

Our routine, finances, work and personal worlds were completely blown out the water with no end in sight. The last few months have felt very much like being in survival mode; in a constant state of fight or flight. This is mentally and physically hard work, and I have not been immune to the consequences myself.

I found that some aspects of the ‘new normal’ suited me well, and I consequently found myself in a state of worry about it being taken away from me. I spent a lot of time fixating on the “what ifs.” I was waiting to be told what may or may not happen to me, and it left me feeling incredibly disempowered.

How do you deal with sudden change?

We all deal with uncertainty differently; some of us tolerate it easier than others. I am by nature an anxious person, but if I let my thoughts run riot, I can easily end up in a black hole without an exit strategy. So, if like me you have been struggling to adapt…and adapt again…give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far.

Unexpected events sometimes force us into spaces that we would not have even considered before. Recovery from my eating disorder has taught me the uncomfortable truth that so much of life is not up to me. Events, experiences, the weather, people and pandemics are not in our control, and when we try to influence them, manipulate their outcome, or overthink them, we are adding unnecessary stress to our world.

I made a conscience decision two weeks ago, to stop and press pause on my thoughts. I looked at where my ship was sailing, and realised I was drifting endlessly with no compass. So instead of waiting for someone to rescue me, I decided to step up and be my own captain. I chose to respond and react to what is happening right now, not what could ‘possibly’ happen down the line.

Promote yourself to be the captain of your ship

The sense of taking back the control has felt pretty awesome. So, how did I do this? Well, I engaged in several uncomfortable conversations, that led me to a new way of thinking about myself. Instead of berating myself for getting thrown off course, I channelled my thinking and energy into taking back control of my ship. I didn’t start future tripping, but instead prioritised short-term goals, both professionally and personally. I worked out where it was that I wanted to go to in the next few months (only), and what I could do actively to prepare for my future.

Overthinking can make you feel stuck and can quickly leave you susceptible to depression and anxiety. Many of our thoughts come from fear and what could potentially go wrong. Re-read that last sentence again. Notice that I used ‘potentially’. We ruminate on situations that are way ahead in the future, and if left to grow, can have a huge impact on our overall stress levels; which can consequently weaken our immune system and leave us vulnerable to illness.

How many times do you say “I am so busy” or “I don’t have time for that” – I am guessing fairly often? So, why bother devoting your precious time to things you have no ability to change; this includes people too; it is fruitless and exhausting.

Just as your brain has got into the habit of running wild with concerns, you can actually retrain it to think differently. It takes work, but is totally possible. YOU CAN be the hero of your own novel, but simply saying “I must be positive” isn’t sustainable when you have deeply ingrained beliefs and patterns. I had years and years of rewiring to do up top, I had to reprogram my hardware and download some updated software. I developed some coping strategies based on the following key words; acknowledge, aware, accept and commit.

Coping strategies
  • Acknowledge the thoughts – don’t avoid them or try to block them out…they always come back!
  • Take some time to think about what the thought is, and where it has its roots.
  • Accept that the thought is NOT the truth or reality.
  • Be aware of your reaction to the thought. How does it make you feel?
  • What helps you to cope with your feelings? Do you even know?
  • Commit to keep working at reframing your thoughts. You have to exercise the muscle to strengthen it.
  • You can’t control your first thought, but you can control the next, and the next, and the next…and the next!
Life is not static, and neither are you

Life is fluid, and just like our thoughts and feelings, nothing stays same indefinitely. I have personally learnt a lot about myself over these last few months. I have gone on a rollercoaster ride of feeling lost and anxious, to feeling empowered and hopeful. There is no concrete map, there isn’t only one route to travel, and things can change in a matter of moments. Make a commitment to yourself to take charge of everything within your control, and be aware of what is not in your power to influence…and let it go.

When life takes an unexpected turn, embrace it, don’t fear it. Work out what you can and can’t do about it, and tell yourself and the world – BRING IT ON!

About the author:

Laura Hearn is the founder of the globally recognised online platform, ‘Jiggsy’ which uses it’s unique creative tool ‘The Jiggsaw’ to connect people affected by an eating disorder and mental ill health. Alongside this, Laura shares her experience of recovery from anorexia and how she learnt to heal from the inside, after spending 7 months in an inpatient treatment centre in the US. She delivers bespoke workshops to companies, schools and organisations, developing confidence and identity from within. Laura is also TV News producer for the BBC, and speaks regularly about her own experience of working within a fast-paced and challenging environment. She uses her extensive knowledge within broadcasting, to remove the stigma of mental illness in the workplace, and to encourage leaders to realise the financial and moral benefits of putting wellbeing at the heart of everything they do.