Decades ago, Americans were living in an age of anxiety. Among the many important issues at that time were communism, the cold war and threats of nuclear warfare. Political and economic issues, civil unrest and social issues also contributed to the age of anxiety. Americans were anxious about their futures.
Today we live in an age of uncertainty. Most recently, we had the uncertainty of the fiscal cliff. While some aspects of that uncertainty have been resolved for now, many other important financial issues remain unsolved.
This leads individuals to be very uncertain about economic issues. What will my taxes be? Will Social Security be there when I retire? Additionally, much uncertainty remains about health insurance and availability of medical services.
Politically, will the president, the House of Representatives and the Senate continue to be unable to solve economic and political questions? Will 2013 remain as uncertain as 2012 on issues such as immigration reform, unemployment, gun control and debt reduction? These are just a few of the important issues that are unresolved and thus create uncertainty.
How does a feeling of uncertainty affect our minds and our bodies? Uncertainty leads to worry, stress and anxiety. How can we deal with this issue so we experience less worry, stress and anxiety? Many of the issues we are uncertain about are not directly under our control. Yet control is one of the best ways to deal with uncertainty.
So here is the paradox: We do not control the budget of the United States but we can control our own economic life. And that is the secret of coping with uncertainty. Identify what you are uncertain about and then focus on near-term action that you can take to reduce your uncertainty. For example, you do not know what kind of health care you will need when you are older or what services will be available to you. But setting aside the long-term future, which we cannot know or control, we can choose to live a healthy life and behave in ways that reduce the risk of health problems.
In other words, focus on what you can control in the here and now. Do not engage in futuristic catastrophic thinking.
Another example of uncertainty concerns Social Security and the finances of retirement. We are uncertain about Social Security benefits and what they will be in 30 years. However right now we can create our own retirement plan and start a savings account. This will reduce the uncertainty pertaining to our retirements.
The bottom line in dealing with uncertainty is to take action now over things that we can control in our daily lives. This does not reduce all areas of uncertainty. However it does give us control over some things that we can directly deal with now. That is a strategy that helps us cope with the stress of uncertainty.
Martin Manosevitz, Ph.D., ABPP is a clinical psychologist and practices in Aspen. He provides services to adults, adolescents, couples and families. He is board certified in clinical psychology and in psychoanalysis. To contact Dr. Manosevitz call 925-2552 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.