When we encounter life’s challenges and face times of uncertainty, it often seems as though we need all available energy to manage our stress and maintain the belief that better times are ahead. While we cope with difficulties without knowing exactly when things will improve, everyday responsibilities still clamor for our attention. As much as we would love to put the world on hold until we feel a stronger sense of security, everything from laundry to parenting to complex job responsibilities could still require our attention. It seems we all have times where we must not only survive, but thrive, even though we cannot see exactly when life will take a turn for the better.
I remember a time recently when I was waiting for medical test results and could not get additional updates until after the weekend. I heard one of my children asking for help with homework, but my mind was completely focused on the anxiety associated with unknown medical information. I could not voice this to my youngster and had to find ways to somehow set aside these fearful feelings, so that I could help my child solve a math problem. I am not known for my math abilities, but shifting my focus and trying to help my child became a far better option than getting lost in my own anxious contemplation. Fearful thoughts may be part of our reality, but we must find a way to acknowledge them without letting them take hold of us. This way, we can continue our daily tasks and even enjoy time with our family and friends in the face of the unknown.
In times of uncertainty, it can be helpful to remember the monumental difference between worry and concern. When we are worried, we let our thoughts create all kinds of different scenarios that typically end with undesirable outcomes. When we are concerned, we recognize that although it is extremely challenging to face an unknown future, we do not have to engage in all kinds of negative speculation. We free ourselves to identify ways we can take action and work toward making a situation better. Worrying is like turning up the furnace on a frigid day but refusing to close the windows: valuable energy is literally going right out the window. We are right to be concerned about getting too cold; therefore, why wouldn’t we follow all the steps that shut out what is negative and keep that warm air where it can make a helpful difference?
The one thing we yearn for when we face uncertainty is the very thing that eludes us the most: a guarantee of exactly how and when things will work out in our favor. When will our family member feel less depression and anxiety? Will we find a good job when we finish school? How much will our medical treatment improve our prognosis? Although these exact answers are unknown, there is information that we do know. We do know that we can rely on supportive family and friends. We do know that hard work and effort give us a fighting chance. Most importantly, we do know the one thing that rises above any uncertainty we may face: no matter the unexpected path we find ourselves on, if we refuse to ever give up, we can find the road that leads to better times.
When we are concerned about something in our lives, we may feel as though we are riding an emotional roller-coaster. One day we are on the up and convinced anything is possible, trusting in our ability to tackle and overcome any challenge we face. The next day, we may feel less hopeful and plummet back down to feelings of anxiety and fear. We must remind ourselves that these highs and lows are a part of life’s journey. Unexpected challenges cause us to veer off the path we thought was certain; our willingness to seek support, always keep trying, and believe in ourselves will lead us back on track and toward a brighter future.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.