Mental Health

Why uncertainty isn’t always a bad thing (and how to embrace it)

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Lauren Geall
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Do you struggle with not knowing what’s going to happen in the future? Here’s why uncertainty isn’t always a bad thing – and how to make the most of it.

Life has been full of uncertainty over the last 18 months. From concerns about the possibility of new lockdown restrictions, to financial and work-related anxieties, the coronavirus pandemic has made many areas of life more uncertain than ever – a fact which has left many people feeling out of control.

But uncertainty has always existed. In fact, it’s an unavoidable fact of life. And while not knowing what’s coming next at work or in your personal life can be scary, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The only certainty in life is that there is uncertainty,” says Alejandra Sarmiento, a psychotherapist at the London-based mental health and wellbeing clinic, The Soke

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“I think a very good way to look at it – and a very realistic way to look at it, too – is that when nothing is certain, everything is possible. And if we allow ourselves to be in that space of not knowing – which is what most of us are really uncomfortable with – what tends to happen is we become more creative in our solution-finding.”

While uncertainty has always been a part of human existence, Sarmiento believes the increasing number of people who struggle with uncertainty these days is down to our obsession with ‘toxic positivity’.

“I think our discomfort with uncertainty comes from the idea that we need to be happy all the time,” she says. “I think unconsciously we’ve got to this point where we don’t allow ourselves to feel bad things, and anything that makes us feel that way is considered negative. But emotions are just emotions – they’re just an indicator of where you’re at in the moment – and they don’t have to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’.”

A woman sat on the sofa cross legged thinking
Uncertainty may produce difficult emotions, but it's not a 'bad' thing.

She continues: “I think the rigidity of thinking ‘it’s bad or good’ leaves us with an inability to be in that grey space in between, and that’s doing us all a massive disservice.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that there are different degrees of uncertainty, and not knowing where your next paycheck is going to come from, for example, is very different from not knowing whether you’ll have an offer accepted on a flat you really love, or whether someone you like will text you back.

But when it comes to these lower stakes types of uncertainty, what Sarmiento is saying makes a lot of sense. Thanks to the pressure many of us feel to constantly ‘achieve’ and move onto the next big thing, it can feel as if sitting in a place of uncertainty (and experiencing the ‘bad’ emotions that come with it) is a waste of time, adding to the sense of anxiety that not knowing can produce.

But in reality, not only is facing uncertainty a lot more common than it might seem, it’s also not a ‘bad’ place to be in at all – and can teach you a lot about yourself and how you see the world.

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So, what’s the best way to embrace the magic of uncertainty if you find yourself in a position of not knowing? For Sarmiento, the best thing you can do is try to find the right language to describe exactly how you’re feeling – and use that understanding to seek the support you need to move forward. 

“Ask yourself – is the uncertainty coming from the fact of not knowing, as in you’re feeling stressed that you don’t know something, or is it making you feel unsafe, and you’re feeling anxious about what might happen?” she says. “I think language at this point becomes really important, because you can pinpoint what the uncertainty is about for you in that precise moment, and depending on the root of your uncertainty, there’s different steps you can take.”

She concludes: “Just try to remember that uncertainty can be hopeful, because when nothing is certain, everything is possible.” 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.