7 Ways to Deal with Uncertainty So You Can Be Happier and Less Anxious

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~John Allen Paulos

In three weeks, my boyfriend and I might move from the Bay area to LA, or we might move in here with roommates if he decides not pursue a film career.

I am starting a new work-from-home writing gig to pay my bills while I write my book. It might be something I can do in under two days a week, or it may require more time. It may provide enough money, or I might need to get some other work to supplement.

If we move, I might enjoy LA; I might not. I might balance everything well; I might feel overwhelmed. I might make new friends easily in my new area; it might take me a while to find like-minded people.

My world is a towering stack of mights right now. Though I’m dealing with a lot more change than usual, the reality is that most days start and end with uncertainty.

Even when you think you’ve curled into a cozy cocoon of predictability, anything could change in a heartbeat.

The only constant in life is that it will involve change, and try as you may to control the future, sometimes all you can do is trust that whatever happens, you can adapt and make the best of it.

Since I am straddling familiarity and the unknown, waiting to form some type of expectations for my future, I’ve been thinking a lot about dealing with uncertainty well. Though I’ve written before about embracing an uncertain future, I have a few more ideas to add to the mix:

1. Replace expectations with plans.

When you form expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You can guide your tomorrow, but you can’t control the exact outcome. If you expect the worst, you’ll probably feel too negative and closed-minded to notice and seize opportunities. If you expect the best, you’ll create a vision that’s hard to live up to.

Instead of expecting the future to give you something specific, focus on what you’ll do to create what you want to experience.

I might be lonely in LA, or I might move into an apartment building full of yogis who enjoy Scrabble. None of that is in my hands right now. What is in my hands is what I plan—what I will actively do when I get there to meet friends, find balance, and live the life I want.

2. Prepare for different possibilities.

The most difficult part of uncertainty, at least for me, is the inability to plan and feel in control. Until I know where I am going to live, I can’t plan what neighborhood I’d like to live in, where I’ll practice yoga, or what events I’ll attend to meet people. But I can plan for the possibilities.

I can make a list for what I would do if I were to move to LA versus what I’d do if I stay local. Obviously the latter doesn’t require much change, so all I really need is one plan and the flexibility to embrace it if necessary.

3. Become a feeling observer.

It isn’t the uncertainty that bothers me; it’s my tendency to get lost in my feelings about it.

The second I start indulging fear, I get lost in a cycle of reactionary thoughts. “I might be lonely” leads to “How will I meet people?” Before you know it, I’ve somehow traveled all the way to “What if I become a recluse, start overeating, and develop restless leg syndrome from sitting too much—alone—on my couch?”

Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration. The point is that speculation leads to feelings, which can lead to more speculation and then more feelings. It helps me to stop the cycle by recognizing the feeling—in that case, fear—and the reminding myself: I can’t possibly predict the future, but I can help create it by fostering positive feelings about the possibilities.

4. Get confident about your coping and adapting skills.

This isn’t the same as “expect the worst.” It’s more about assuring yourself that you can handle any difficulty that might come.

In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Julie K. Norem discusses the concept of defensive pessimism—when you consider the worst so you can plan how you’d handle it. This has actually shown to help people manage anxiety.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” In my case, the worst would be if my boyfriend didn’t make a decision at all and we stayed in our current living situation (overcrowded and cluttered). I wouldn’t like it, but I could handle it. I could write at the library. I could take the opportunity to downsize my stuff. I could deal, which makes the uncertainty a little less scary.

5. Utilize stress reduction techniques preemptively.

If you’re dealing with uncertainty, you probably have stress in your body, even if it’s not at the forefront of your thoughts in this exact moment. Over time, that body stress affects blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle tension, cholesterol level, breathing rate, and every organ in your body.

Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your day, ideally meditation, even if just five to ten minutes daily. Finding your center will help you feel better prepared to tackle whatever comes your way.

6. Focus on what you can control.

Oftentimes, we overlook the little things we can do to make life easier while obsessing about the big things we can’t do.

For example, my boyfriend and I are cramped in a small space with little storage. My clothes are in bags spaced throughout the room, like some kind of luggage booby trap. At times I’ve gotten really frustrated with the chaos, since I feel like I don’t know where anything is, and I’ve complained about wanting to move now.

Then suddenly, it dawned on me: moving now just isn’t an option, but I can make this living situation more bearable if I stop complaining and focus on a short-term solution. So I asked my boyfriend to help me organize the space and keep it that way, and now I feel a lot less scattered.

7. Practice mindfulness.

When you obsess about a tomorrow you can’t control, you’re too busy judging what hasn’t happened yet to fully experience what’s happening right now. Instead of noticing and appreciating the beauty in the moment, you get trapped in a fear-driven thought cycle about the potential for discomfort down the line.

While meditation is the best way to become more mindful, it isn’t the only approach. Sometimes it helps me to take an inventory of what’s good in today. So I can’t yet plan for tomorrow—that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That means I can spend today doing other things, like writing, reading, relaxing in the sun, and connecting with people I love.

If ever you think you’ve created a controllable, predictable life for yourself, you can rest assured that’s an illusion. Nothing stays the same forever.

The uncertainty can keep you up at night, obsessing over ways to protect yourself from anything that might go wrong. Or it can motivate you to practice acceptance, live in the moment, and embrace the adventure of living.

What’s coming tomorrow might not be easy—or it might fulfill you in ways you didn’t know to imagine. What’s certain is that it will come and when it gets here, you’ll respond to it, learn from it, and move into another tomorrow full of endless possibilities.

Today I’m focusing on my possibilities, not my fear, and suddenly I feel a lot better.

Photo by Modern Dope

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • Just one idea to deal with uncertainity – start working. Do everything you can and keep doing it. Stop procrastinating and just keep doing the thing. Uncertainty is a mental period between the reality and imagination. To keep it away, you've to keep yourself busy.

    Completing as much as you can will only help you, and it may also remove the uncertainty. Not possible always, just a thought.

  • I love this. I am also preparing for a move this winter from Myrtle Beach, SC to Denver, CO. It has “opportunity” written all over it – I have lived here for 16 years and have been looking for a change for a long time – and now it is looking me right in the face. I fall victim to many of your “what-not-to-do's”… such as trying to control and getting lost in emotion and feeling. My yoga practice keeps me very grounded and I have just committed to 4 classes per week with my favorite teacher here, until the move –
    Thank you for the insights!
    Jessica Durivage

  • I love this. I am also preparing for a move this winter from Myrtle Beach, SC to Denver, CO. It has “opportunity” written all over it – I have lived here for 16 years and have been looking for a change for a long time – and now it is looking me right in the face. I fall victim to many of your “what-not-to-do's”… such as trying to control and getting lost in emotion and feeling. My yoga practice keeps me very grounded and I have just committed to 4 classes per week with my favorite teacher here, until the move –
    Thank you for the insights!
    Jessica Durivage

  • I'm in the midst of the most uncertain year of my life, and one thing I've learned is that you have to keep moving forward. Even when you can't see the destination, you have to make that small step every day to move towards it. You can't control the entire outcome but you can control some of the tiny things that contribute to it. I know that when things are uncertain, and I am fearful, I often want to freeze and just wait for it to “all be over”. That is like giving up and not wanting to take any responsibility, and I've learned that it does much more harm than good.

    Sometimes the big picture is too much to look at, but you can easily see what tomorrow will entail. Staying in the “now” but still slowly moving toward the future is something I'm learning to do.

  • Jessica

    “When you form expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”

    Boy have I learned that one the hard way!!

    Great article, thanks!

  • I love what you wrote about the mental period between reality and imagination–so true! If you keep moving forward, you're more focused on the doing than where you're going. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  • You're most welcome! I've learned it the hard way, too…

  • Hi Alannah,

    I know exactly what you mean about the instinct to freeze and wait for it to “all be over.” In this book I'm reading, Hand Wash Cold, Karen Maezen Miller writes that we're always obsessing with how our story ends. I thinks that's a big part of what makes uncertainty scary. We want to feel some sense of control, that we're headed somewhere where we'll be happy.

    When I focus on being happy right now, suddenly it's not as important “where it's all leading.”

    Thanks for commenting!


  • Congratulations on your decision to embark on this new adventure! That sounds like a smart move with the yoga. I'm reconnecting with my practice after some time away, and I am finding it very helpful in embracing the moment.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this post. Thanks for commenting!


  • Pingback: Chocolate-Covered Aims()

  • Hey Lori, Hi. It's natural to express such thoughts when you've (tiny)
    buddha in your pocket. What say?

  • Tony Applebaum

    Lori thanks so much for this. I am a business owner, and I have really been exploring how we can live a present moment driven life while still having goals. I think your post gave some great perspective. Especially point number one. Peace and blessings to you.

  • Hi Tony~

    I'm glad you found this helpful. I think there's a misconception that living in the moment precludes planning for the future, but I think they can and should co-exist. If we work toward long-term goals with a heightened quality of awareness in the moment, we'll be more effective living in the now AND creating the tomorrow we visualize.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Tony Applebaum

    That is the best explanation I have heard. Thanks again. Love Tiny Buddha.

    BTW, Karen Maezen Miller told me “It's the big time when you hit the tiny”


  • Pingback: Homeland Security Watch » The Seven-fold Path to Enlightened Emergency Management()

  • Pingback: The Seven-fold Path to Enlightened Emergency Management « R4 Resilience()

  • Wow that's so wonderful to read. I'm really enjoying her book!

    Thanks Tony,


  • Rakefet

    Lots of luck 🙂
    I always believe that everything is for the best,
    and I'm sure you'll succeed in any path ou take 🙂

  • KiwiCommons

    Really well done article. Thanks for sharing the personal bits at the start. It really helps me relate with my own situation(s).

  • Thank you–I'm so glad you found it helpful!

  • Thank you Rakefet. I believe that, as well. In looking back on the twists and turns in my life, I appreciate every one of them. I hope you are doing well!

  • laura

    this article just spoke to me in my current situation. I have been obsessive over my next year to come for the past week and making myself miserable. This article I feel was written about me! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Pingback: 8/19/10 Tiny Wisdom: On Letting Go |

  • Anonymous

    Everything on this list makes a lot of sense, it’s just trying to learn how to let go of all the negative emotions that hold us back. I know that’s something that I have to work on.

  • @Lori You are right. This stuff is helpful. When one going through an Emotional loss. Also, this is very important that we must keep moving forward at any cost.

  • Drrajesh369


  • Pingback: On Fearing Change: When It's Time to Take a Leap of Faith |

  • I keep coming back to this article. I’m in the midst of a job change I don’t control, but I have begun to assert control in the areas I do influence (packing, preparing, scheduling a departure and backwards planning). It helps with the stress of change. I love change and I fear it – but I think that’s a different article 🙂 Thanks for the refresher on how to keep anxiety at bay. It’s great stuff.

  • I am in the process of preparing for a giant life change, the fear has been tripping me up like crazy and my biggest fear is that the panic and anxiety will overwhelm me once I do this thing. Just yesterda I had the thought to arm myself against any overwhelming fear that might (and probably will at some point) come up. I wrote myself a short letter of encouragement, along with a list of things to do to support and empower myself when I am feeling afraid and powerless. Doing this before I encounter those feelings and while I am still in my right mind (ha ha!), makes me feel more prepared to handle the worst if it comes. I am calling it my hurricane preparedness kit. The hurricane being the storm of feelings that will almost definitely flood me once I make this change and since I have no friends or family nearby, this helps me be my own support system when I need to!

  • Pingback: 31 Days Post-Op « Just Another Day…()

  • Katherine

    Totally what I needed to hear right now. Thank you for comforting me and bringing me back down to earth.

  • Pingback: TOM()

  • Pingback: BENJAMIN()

  • Pingback: Approaching the Site’s 1-Year Anniversary (Giveaways!) |

  • Pingback: Motorcycle()

  • Pingback: MARCUS()

  • Pingback: woman hair loss causes and prevention()

  • Pingback: We Have the Power to Choose | Tiny Buddha()

  • Practicing mindfulness is keeping your mind busy, with your mind, carpe diem – that’s being mind full, being empty. ‘ and from the work thing perspective, practice work meditation, the inner bodies have the possibility of two, even three separate fully focused points of attention. Learn Dharma! – Selassie is a bus! peace and love

  • Pingback: The Secret to (High) Self Esteem | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Pingback: Overcoming the Power of Suggestion: Make Your Own Choices | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Pingback: Leaving a Secure Job When the Risk Feels Scary | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Pingback: Overcoming the Power of Suggestion: Make Your Own Choices « yogaful | day()

  • Pingback: Aid for a No-Good, Terrible, Very Bad Day | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Pingback: Letting Go of the Fear of Uncertainty | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Pingback: 21 Tips to Release Self-Neglect and Love Yourself in Action | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Pingback: Cracking Your Comfort Zone: How to Face a Fear | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In()

  • Adanary

    I guess I’m late to responding to this article but reading it was timely.  I read it yesterday and overnight something happened and there’s so much more clarity.  I too was stressed about my future as I am settling a property dispute with the ex-husband.  After 5 years he wants to take over the mortgage.  I’ve given him my price, he wasn’t too enthusiastic.  I can’t stay, financing on my own has been difficult.  He may or may not buy me out, I don’t know yet.  In the meantime, I will be listing it for sale.  It might sell well, in this economy it might not and that could cost me.   My boyfriend’s lease is up this month, he and I may or may not get a place together, after all I have been anticipating his proposal.  We’ve been together 4 years and thought the outcome with the ex could accelerate those other aspects of the relationship; of my life. We have children and their schools to worry about.  The uncertainty was overwhelming.  Waiting on others, while needing to make decisions for myself and my children.  I felt like I’d released a balloon bouquet into the sky and I’m watching, waiting to see if they land, when and where?  I’m very hopeful now, we all have a plan and it’s a win-win!  It will take a matter of time, but narrowing down the po burden has been lifted off of me.  Another thought I came across really helped put things in perspective, I want to share with future readers:  “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”  St. Francis di Assisi ………Love-n-Sunshine

  • That’s a beautiful quote. Thank you for sharing it. Sending you love and light, Adanary!

  • Habibanazeera

    Thank you so much for a great article. I was lost in dealing with my uncertainty and I just randomly typed ‘how to deal with uncertainty’! And I found ur page. Thanks. It is really insightful.

  • You’re most welcome. I’m so glad this was helpful to you!

  • Shpigelmanzoya

    This article made me feel so much better because uncertainty is a huge issue for me to deal with because no matter how hard I try, my fear takes over and I let it get to me. But reading this has made me realize the power of positive thinking and practicing self control. We can plan all we want, but the present moment is vital and we must never forget to make the most of it.

  • Well said–life happens now!

  • Anonymous

    This Article Really Inspired Me

  • Afping

    This spoke to me tonight, i am going throught a divorce after 35 years,cheating and lots of lying  l will be loosing out home of 25 years, don’t know where i will live, financial messes and i feel paralized with making a decision that i won’t look back and say “why did I do that”.  i keep looking at the big picture and it is scarry.  I will take your advise and start with baby steps to move forward.  Thanks

  • I truly wish you the best.  Just keep breathing and taking those small steps.

  • CJ

    I’m dealing with fertility issues. I’ve thought about the worst case scenario, and I think it’s no children (we’re not interested in pursuing adoption for several reasons). I always thought that I would be a parent, and I’m just so sad to think that this won’t happen. The worst thought is that my parents will never be grandparents. Am I looking at this in the wrong way? If not, then what do you do when imaging the worst case scenario leads to overwhelming sadness? Is the pain of anxiety maybe better than this?

  • I’m so sorry to learn about your fertility issues CJ. I don’t think you’re looking at it in the wrong way, though it would likely help matters if you tried to redirect your thoughts when you started thinking about the worst case scenario. If there’s still hope (if you don’t know it’s impossible to get pregnant) you may want to try some positive affirmations to keep you from getting overwhelmed by the possibility of the worst case scenario. If you Google “positive affirmations for fertility,” you’ll find some results that might be helpful to you!

  • Even when you think you’ve curled into a cozy cocoon of predictability, anything could change in a heartbeat.

    The only constant in life is that it will involve change–and try as you may to control the future, sometimes all you can do is trust that whatever happens, you can adapt and make the best of it.

    Some great insights Lori – emphasizes what I learn time and time again: at the end of the day, regardless of external circumstance, you are in control of how you think, act and behave at any moment in any given situation.

    I have a hard time dealing with uncertainty sometimes as well, especially when it’s related to something close to me – but, like you mentioned, it’s all about putting things in perspective and focusing on the things you can control.


  • Thanks Parin. I definitely find that having faith in myself gives me a solid foundation to deal with the uncertainty of the world around me. I can never predict the future, but I can believe in my ability to handle it!

  • “I can never predict the future, but I can believe in my ability to handle it!” – well said Lori! 🙂

  • Thanks Parin!

  • Maze

    I found another article with the same points. Who is copying whom ?

  • Can you share the link Maze?

  • Thanksverymuch

    Thank you so much for writing this, the part where you write about the snowball of thoughts from meeting people…to being an over eating recluse is exactly how my mind works sometimes, and being able to read it from someone else’s perspective, and humorously written, helped me to see that yes it is a little ridiculous but that it happens to other people…but also those crazy things we can think of probably won’t happen, especially because we do have control over those things, and we can deal with what comes our way. Thank you so much for this Lori!!!

  • You’re most welcome! I think we all let our minds run away from us every now and then. It can seem like such a natural impulse. But you’re right–it’s rarely as bad as we think it will be, and whatever happens, we can deal with it!

  • sally

    Thank you Lori gor this very helpful article. I already feel better. I get trapped in these endless fear cycles of what ifs and they pile on top of each other. Then I wonder why I feel out if control and like I’m going crazy. Thank you gor the tools to follow. It’s really so simple.

  • You’re most welcome. I know that feeling well. I’m glad this was helpful to you!

  • Amir Mahmoud

    hey Alannah I really feel what you are saying, because it’s always the next smallest step that will take us to the next level. I agree that the big picture is too much to look at, and that’s why I wrote this blog on Uncertainty and how to use uncertainty to your advantage. You can apply this to anything you do in your life. I hope you Enjoy and please comment and share if you found that it helps you 🙂

  • allan nielsen

    I lift my soul to you, O God, I trust in you, O my God.
    This is the only way to tackle uncertainty. AMEN

  • Mike B

    Great article. As a chronic worrier, finding a method to deal with uncertainty is very helpful!

  • Syed Muhammad Waqar

    Would you like to know I didn’t even read it? How can I overcome my certainity?

  • M

    Lori, I love you. Your articles are fantastic and your insight and wisdom is truly buddha-esque. Thank you.

  • Thanks so much, M, and you’re most welcome. I’m glad they’e been helpful to you. =)

  • GypsyCat

    I am obsessed with the future and keeping worrying about what my life will be like in ten years time. If I am on holiday abroad I keep counting how much time I have left and thinking about how depressed I will be when I go home. HELP!

  • Megan

    Thanks so much for this I have been struggling with anxiety: fear of what will happen to me in the future and not knowing or being able to predict what happens: Will I get into the school I want or if my bf is going to move away from me and break up with me forever. Thinking about this gives me nausea and severe anxiety. Been trying hard to cope

  • pam

    thank you so much for such a wonderful and insightful article, it really helped me.

  • You’re most welcome. I’m glad this helped!

  • Nikhil Gupta


  • 2tents

    Thanks. I need this right now. I’m about to sell a house I’ve lived in for 24 years and buy another, more expensive house. My husband died last year and I’ve been torn about moving — not to mention trading a mortgage that’s paid off in one year for a ten year mortgage. I just feel in my core that it’s time to move on, despite my misgivings. I’ve been trying to remind myself that, “Worry is wasted imagination.” You’ve given me some great tips!

  • Darius

    I have trouble with the uncertainty around relationships. I used to be obsessed with finding a girlfriend. And even when it did work I got rejected in the end and I’ve been giving rejections by other women like ( you don’t have a job/ your immature etc.)

    Now I’m just going with the flow, in a matter of minutes I will be calling this girl I’m friends with and ready to make plans for getting coffee.

    She’s a lot older than I and left her a voicemail today telling her my age. I don’t know her reaction yet but I know I will accept it for what it is and move on in tiny steps from there.

    Amazing article Lori! 🙂

  • lady j

    I like that! Focus on the possibilities and not fear of the unknown. I’m going to try and look towards what the possibilities of my also having to move and my financial situation that is empty currently. But, I certainly don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. So.. I will believe that whatever happens I will be good if not great!!

  • Angela

    This is my second time reading this post since I discovered it last night. I must say it’s already brought me much comfort. Just knowing that uncertainty is an everyday experience and that others are struggling in the same way has really helped me. I’ve already started following some of tips given especially number 2 and 6. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom 🙂

  • Chris Russell

    7 years late, but… Great stuff. I would add that you can use walking or running in the morning as part of your practice to work through the uncertainties. The other thing you can do is go down the ‘what’s the worst that can happen?” track and realize that nothing horrible, that you can’t recover from, is going to happen.