Coping With Uncertainty

By Sin Eu Cheah|17-02-2021 | 1 Min Read
Can we shift our perceptions to deal with the certainty of uncertainty?

One year later

It’s past the first anniversary of the new normal for many of us. So far, we have gone through countless Movement Control Orders (MCO) and its variations, hit new highs and lows in the number of cases, and shimmied through new working SOPs. There is so much uncertainty all around us still.

As veterans of the ‘new normal’, we should be pretty well-adapted to the lifestyle and embracing it with ease and comfort, right?

On the contrary, we may find ourselves heading towards more uncertainty. At this very moment, questions and concerns may resurface; What is the next incoming lockdown version? Are we getting vaccinated? When will the curve flatten? Am I guaranteed my job as time goes on? What would I do if I lost my job? Should I go to the office if I feel unsafe?  

The questions that pop up can leave us drained, because quite frankly, we don’t have the answers. It does feel like we are living in an unpredictable, post-apocalyptic world with things seemingly out of control.

With the unpredictable environment, rapid policy changes and backtracking, what can we do to cope with the constant change? Here are five steps we can take to cultivate a disruption-proof mindset:

Establish our circle of control

In this unsettling period, everything seems to be an uncertainty. From your job security, health, household, workload, to the economy and daily Covid cases, it all just feels so random. At such times, it is crucial that we categorise things that we can and cannot control.

For instance, we won’t be able to control the number of cases that are happening, but we can protect ourselves with the recommended guidelines like always wearing a mask and maintaining appropriate social distance. Similarly, we can't single-handedly ‘jolt’ the economy back to life, but we can keep our heads down on our own work, create back-up plans, and strategise multiple avenues of income to create financial stability.

Establishing the two categories provides us with clarity. Now we know the things we can control, we can enact strategies and actions towards what can be realistically accomplished. As for things we can’t control, we can acknowledge it as it is, regulate our emotions and perceptions towards the situation and manage our anxiety about it. Accepting that we have no control over something may not magically give us control over it, but it allows us to better manage our reactions.

Read More: Overcoming Uncertainty in these Times of Stress

Plan for Possibilities

Following establishing the circle of control, we need to prepare contingencies. For example, by acknowledging that job security is a concern, managing the risk of becoming jobless is something that we are able to control (whilst worrying about the day that we might get the boot is not).

Things we can do at this time include searching for work online as a backup, establishing a network with others and learning new skills that we can use to increase our value and options.

The WEF recently released a survey in which they interviewed employers about in-demand skills. By equipping yourself with the right kind of knowledge and skills, you can become what the market wants.

Be Flexible

That includes both mentally and behaviour-wise. A flexible mindset grants the ability to respond accordingly to ever-changing circumstances and differing needs. One of the ways is to adopt the growth mindset, coined by Carol Dweck. 

Rather than feel stuck and fixed in the same situation, the agile mind provides us with the opportunity to break out of the vicious cycle and move onto contingency plans.


This mindset, when adopted, allows us to see setbacks (e.g. getting infected by Covid) as a challenge that can be overcome instead of an end-of-the-world doomsday situation. Rather than feel stuck and fixed in the same situation, the agile mind provides us with the opportunity to break out of the vicious cycle and move onto contingency plans.

Adopting self-care

Uncertain environments and situations cause us to feel anxiety and stress, sometimes building on top of what was already our baseline stress levels. As such, taking care of our wellbeing is essential during this challenging time. 
Here are some recommendations:

  • Exercise: at least 150 minutes per week, managed across 3 - 4 days at 30 minutes minimum per day.
  • Sharpen mental prowess through activities such as meditation, guided imagery and mindfulness activities
  • Sleep and naps: 7-8 hours of sleep per day
  • Build social connections and sharing activities
  • Practice self-compassion and evaluate our self-worth

Managing Expectations & Uncertainty

It is good to set goals for our life in general and work towards those goals. However, during such demanding circumstances, there is a need to be agile and be ready to go with Plan B (or C, D, Z). 

Often, we set expectations for ourselves and think of how things ‘should’ be. For example, I should be able to travel by the beginning of next year, or the government should be giving the vaccines by the end of the month, or we should be able to gather with friends and family during festive seasons like previous years.

Read More: 5 Must Have Skills in Times of Uncertainty

This can cause a lot of unhappiness and unnecessary stress as things are ever-changing during uncertain times. So, do away with the ‘should’ and ‘should nots’, as worrying about what should have happened will actually worsen our feelings of denial, panic and even depression. As suggested above, plan for contingencies and adopt a more flexible mindset to face the incoming change that is upon us.

In short, expect the unexpected.

Whoops, wrong face mask.

At the end of the day, we need to recognise and accept uncertainty as it is, focus on things we can control, manage our stress, adopt a more flexible mindset and prepare ourselves for a range of possible outcomes. These steps will ensure that we are able to determine our outcome in this pandemic and maintain sanity during times of such uncertainty.

Watch this great leadership nugget on dealing with uncertainty

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Sin Eu is a sports, exercise, and performance psychologist. He is experienced in training and coaching a variety of people, including professional athletes, gym-goers, corporate employees, and children on learning mental skills and promoting personal growth. He is involved in wellness coaching that includes mindfulness, personal development, stress management, and motivation.
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