Free article: Managing uncertainty

Published: Wednesday, 16 November 2016
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If you are struggling with a sense of uncertainty, be reassured: you are not alone. 2016 has been a year of upheaval, with the promise of big changes on the horizon. Louise Wingrove has some suggestions for how to cope while everything feels up in the air.


  • We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to what happens to us.
  • It is important to understand the physical and emotional impact of change, and that it a process.
  • It is important to be able to identify the symptoms of stress in yourself and others and to find ways to help you to manage it.
  • Get as much information as you can about any imminent change, ask questions to find out more if necessary.

There is always uncertainty in life, but how can we manage in a time of ongoing upheaval? How can we manage our anxiety and stress when all around us is changing?

There is no magic solution to handling change. Some of us are simply better at it than others. However, there are some very straightforward things that you can do to help you manage uncertainty and cope with change.

Develop your response-ability and take charge

Although we can’t always control what happens to us, we can absolutely control how we respond to what is happening to us.

Knowing that we are in control of something – how we respond to situations – gives us back a lot of personal power. We can choose to get stressed or we can choose to deal positively with the cards we have been dealt.

If you pull a cat’s tail it reacts instinctively; it is an emotional reaction. When someone, or something, pulls our tail – presses our trigger points – we don’t have to react emotionally. In between trigger and reaction is choice. With con-scious choice comes personal control.

So, how do we develop this ‘response-ability’?

Well, the first thing to do is to increase your self-awareness, to learn what your triggers are. What is it that stresses you and how do you typically react to that stressor?

The second thing to do is to use your imagination to explore and visualise all the things that you could do to manage that situation. What action can you take?

Thirdly, use your conscience. What’s the right thing to do, for yourself and for others?

Lastly, make a conscious choice about what you will do. What is your response?

When we are in control of how we respond, we develop and increase our confidence to handle all uncertainty.

Understand the physical and emotional impact of change

Our emotional responses to change are illustrated by the Kubler-Ross Change Curve. Originally developed to explain the grieving process, it is now widely used as a way of helping people understand their reactions to significant change or upheaval. The process is generally accepted to include three stages:

  • shock/denial
  • anger/depression
  • integration/acceptance.

It is important to have an understanding of this process, because it is a process, and it takes time. Some of us go through this journey more quickly than others, so it is useful to understand the stages of the curve, both for yourself and to support others. It is also important to recognise that sometimes we can get stuck in the anger/depression part of the curve and may need support from others to move through the curve to the acceptance stage.

Manage your stress

Stress can impact us in a variety of ways – physically, emotionally and psychologically. Make sure that you can identify the symptoms of stress in yourself and, if you are a leader, in others. Identifying stress is one thing, handling it is another. Here are seven steps to help you manage stress: your own and others’.

Manage your CATS

Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and sugar can all contribute to increasing anxiety and to panic attacks. So, during stressful times you should try to reduce these. Eat more healthily, take exercise, and ensure you spend time with loved ones. Put whatever is happening at work into perspective. In 20 years’ time, how important will this problem be?

Worry scheduling

Write down everything that’s worrying you about a situation, put together a plan to deal with it (even if it is just how you are going to respond to it psychologically) then file it away. Write in your diary when you will next worry about it. Every time your mind wanders to that anxiety, remind yourself that you have a date in your diary worry about it – until then, make a real effort not to. To quote Mary Schmich, ‘know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum’.

Interrupt your thinking

Another psychological technique is to have a trigger that can remind you, in times of stress, of something funny or distracting. This will be unique to you – it could be a word, a visual image, a sound – something that will interrupt the negative thinking, will make you stop and re-evaluate.

Focus on what can be controlled

Focus on what you can control and work on those areas. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.


Frame the situation positively, if you can. Rather than thinking about something negatively and using negative words to describe it, reframe it. Use positive, can-do words to describe the situation and your attitude towards it.


It is estimated that the average child laughs 300 to 500 times a day, while the average adult laughs only about 15 times a day. Laughter creates physical changes in the body, releasing hormones that help reduce stress. And yet when we get stressed we laugh less.


Breathe properly. When we get stressed we breathe much more shallowly, from the chest. Take time out to learn how to breathe from the diaphragm and relax your body. A relaxed body helps us to cope with whatever happens to us.

Information is power

During any change, information is power. Get as much information as you can about the change. Ask questions to find out more:

  • Why is the change happening?
  • Who does it affect?
  • When is it happening?
  • How will it affect you and your team?
  • What do you need to do?

If you lead a team, you will need to communicate regularly with them about what’s happening (even if it is to tell them that you don’t know). You can significantly reduce stress and anxiety through good regular communication.


Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Louise-WingroveLouise Wingrove has been a trainer and coach for over 20 years and has led training teams in companies in both the public and private sectors. She is director of training consultancy Funky Learning
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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