For many people, the last few years have felt like a whirlwind of unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances. An ever-changing pandemic, along with social, political and economic unrest, have weighed on minds, contributing to a sense of uncertainty and stress concerning the future. Plus, we all have personal issues that could also add to this sense of unease. Because of this uncertainty, many people feel lost or as if they’re not fully connected to daily life.
Medically speaking, though, what does uncertainty mean for our health? What’s happening to our brain and body when these feelings start to build up?
Uncertainty stems from an innate desire to prepare for the future. However, because there are so many potential issues, it can feel overwhelming trying to predict and prepare for the outcomes. This can lead to an accumulation of stress that can then result in mental health issues, ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ambiguity about the future and feelings of uncertainty are hard to describe and even more difficult to quantify, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t solutions. You can learn how to cope with uncertainty and all the stress it brings and return to a healthier, less anxious mental state.
Increases in Anxiety
By itself, uncertainty isn’t necessarily a problem. After all, there are many situations in life where the outcome is uncertain. In most cases, the brain is very good at managing stress and anxiety. This is partially due to its ability to predict even abstract circumstances and prepare for them. However, over time, the brain can get stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode, which makes any potential outcome seem like a threat. This in turn triggers anxiety. Imagining and preparing for all of these threats takes a massive toll on our mental and physical health.
Over time, the brain’s incredible cognitive ability begins to work against itself. Instead of practical outcomes and threats, it begins to imagine more exaggerated situations with even heavier repercussions. This creates a vicious loop that results in constantly accumulating anxiety and stress. As an additional problem, global and macro issues often have repercussions that are simply too massive to fully comprehend, which can further complicate our mental health.
In a recent survey, fewer Americans described themselves as compassionate or happy due to growing uncertainty about the world. Concerns about financial stability and career growth were among the most common sources of anxiety for Gen Z and Millenials. Many individuals also felt that it was difficult to find trustworthy information about current events, which worsened the sense of uncertainty.
The Dangers of Stress and Anxiety
Some people wonder why so many individuals and health professionals make such a big deal about stress and anxiety. After all, they may feel bad, but they’re just mental problems, right? Wrong. First, our mental health is as important as our physical health. Plus, our minds and our bodies are closely linked. Poor mental health can cause poor physical health, and an unhealthy body can harm our mental state.
Stress and anxiety, in particular, are dangerous to both aspects of health. When your body is constantly in threat prevention mode due to chronic anxiety, it engages a wide range of functions to protect itself. These functions include the release of a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline provides a boost in energy, but also dramatically increases heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, ensures the brain uses more glucose and increases the availability of materials to help with healing. However, it also suppresses “non-essential” functions, like the digestive process, reproductive system, growth processes, and the immune system.
Over time, all of these changes can lead to issues such as:
- Digestive problems
- Sleep issues
- Weight gain
- Memory impairment
- Loss of focus
- Loss of libido
- Muscle pain and tension
- Cardiac issues, like heart attacks and stroke
How We Can Fight the Symptoms and the Cause
On a personal level, there are many ways to handle uncertainty in life. Start by determining how you were able to cope with uncertain situations in your past. It can also help to identify exactly what you’re uncertain about and work to address the issue in small, concrete ways.
Try unplugging from social media for a while. To make money, media companies must constantly produce a barrage of information and news to generate clicks. Negative stories spread much faster and more efficiently, which means that you spend much of your time doomscrolling from negative post to negative post.
Find ways to help alleviate your stress and anxiety. Many people benefit from mindfulness exercises like meditation, yoga, or similar activities. Other people just need a brisk walk. Listening to music is also a fantastic stress reliever. Do whatever works best for you.
Take care of your physical health, as well. A healthy body can provide a measurable mental health boost. Eat well by maintaining a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and all of the essential nutrients. Try your best to find ways to exercise.
It can also be psychologically beneficial to find solace in a community. For some people, this might be a religious group, while others may have a tight-knit friend group. Sharing woes and resolutions is a great way to find support and help lift others.
You Don’t Have to Be Alone
Sometimes lifestyle changes just aren’t enough. This doesn’t indicate failure or a lack of trying. Some mental health issues need outside help from an expert. Reaching out to an experienced, qualified mental health professional is one of the best ways to learn to manage anxiety, stress, and a sense of uncertainty.
Concerns about uncertainty can impact us all in very different ways, and we can react with varying emotional responses. A good counselor will help to address your specific needs. Key parts of this process often involve helping you cope with your feelings, manage stress, and reset your perspective.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with feelings of stress and uncertainty that are interfering with daily functioning and quality of life, reach out to our experts. Our counselors are available 24/7 to take your call. Start feeling better today.