Uncertainty is one of my favourite topics because I find it to be central to so much of our existence. A supermassive body with gravitational pull that affects everything we do.
It’s hard to write about uncertainty because it is so multifaceted so I’ll try to touch upon several aspects of uncertainty with the hope that together they form a constellation to help you further understand your relationship with uncertainty.
Uncertainty can be uncomfortable for human beings to experience because it challenges our need for predictability and control. But to understand why it’s experienced as so awful requires we briefly touch upon several different disciplines’ understanding of it.
From a psychological perspective, uncertainty can create feelings of anxiety and fear as it can be perceived as a threat to our sense of security. Our brain’s amygdala, the center of the brain that processes emotions and memories, is activated in the presence of uncertainty. This can lead to feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety.
From an evolutionary biology perspective, uncertainty can be seen as a threat to our survival. Humans have evolved to be able to predict and control their environment in order to survive. Uncertainty can be seen as a threat to our ability to do this, and as a result, our brains have developed a heightened sensitivity to it.
From a neuroscience perspective, uncertainty can activate the stress response in our brain, releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating, and tension.
From a physics perspective, uncertainty is an inherent aspect of the universe. The laws of quantum mechanics state that the behavior of particles can’t be predicted with certainty, and that there is always an element of probability.
From a historical perspective, uncertainty has played a significant role in shaping human societies and cultures. Throughout history, people have struggled to predict and control the future, leading to the development of various forms of divination and prophecy.
From a political perspective, uncertainty can lead to instability and insecurity. In politics, uncertainty can arise from a lack of clear leadership or conflicting information, leading to confusion and mistrust.
From a sociology perspective, uncertainty can lead to social unrest, as people may feel that their social status or position is threatened by the uncertainty. This can lead to conflicts and tensions between different groups and individuals.
From a social psychology perspective, uncertainty can lead to feelings of social isolation and loneliness as people may feel that they cannot rely on others for support and guidance.
From a trauma perspective, uncertainty can be especially difficult for individuals who have experienced traumatic events. Trauma can disrupt the individual’s sense of safety and control in the world and uncertainty can activate those feelings of fear and vulnerability.
From a death anxiety perspective, uncertainty can be a reminder of our own mortality and can lead to feelings of dread and despair.
From an existentialist perspective, uncertainty can be seen as an opportunity to find meaning in life. It can be a reminder that life is fragile and that we must make the most of the time we have.
From a futurist perspective, uncertainty can be seen as a challenge to be met and an opportunity to innovate and create. It can lead to new ways of thinking, new technologies, and new ways of living.
The link between the subjective human experience of uncertainty and death anxiety is complex, but they are interconnected.
Uncertainty can be a reminder of our own mortality and can activate feelings of dread and despair. We may feel that our sense of control is threatened by uncertainty and this can lead to feelings of vulnerability and fear. These feelings can also be linked to death anxiety, which is the fear of one’s own death and the unknown aspects of the afterlife. The fear of death can make us question the meaning and purpose of our lives, and can make us doubt our beliefs and values. It can also lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Both uncertainty and death anxiety can activate similar same emotional and physical responses, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and tension. They can also lead to similar coping mechanisms, such as avoidance, distraction, and denial.
It’s important to understand that death anxiety and uncertainty are normal and universal human experiences, and that it is possible to learn to cope with them in a healthy way. Therapy, mindfulness, and self-care practices can be helpful in managing these feelings. Additionally, understanding that uncertainty is a natural part of life and that it is something that everyone experiences can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and helplessness.
I’ve never had anyone come in and say “I am struggling with uncertainty.” People come in looking for help with other manifestations of uncertainty such as anxiety, avoidance, or feeling trapped just to name a few. We then discover that the individual’s relationship with uncertainty is a huge factor in their experience.
In terms of working with uncertainty, we start with exploring why you experience it the way you do. We then often usually move to exploring why it’s so difficult to cope with uncertainty. We then try to help you shore up the resources you need to trust and feel that you can weather uncertainty. This includes exploring your values and what it is you find meaningful.