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March 30, 2021

Dealing with Uncertainty: How to Cut Through the Mental Chatter

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

For every worry, every uncertainty, and every catastrophe that pops into your head, say this out loud: If that happens, I will deal with it. I will help myself, and I will also ask for the help I need.

We all like to be sure of ourselves and our place in the world. We like knowing what to do, what’s happening, and what’s likely to happen. Having this foundation is safe, it’s comfortable, and it allows us to take the risks in our lives we need to, knowing that the ground beneath our feet is stable.

Except, we’ve all learned that the ground beneath our feet isn’t always stable.

While there is certainly a light at the end of the tunnel, this global crisis has brought home a couple truths: Namely, that life is full of uncertainty, and even when we feel settled and stable, something can show up and pull the rug out from under our feet.

With uncertainty hanging over our heads, how are we supposed to move forward?

Use the Evidence You Have

Every single difficult thing you have ever faced in your life, you have dealt with. Every single one.

Maybe there are some things you handled poorly, maybe there are some things you regret. That’s only natural—none of us knows how we’ll deal with something until it happens. We cannot predict the future. We are also imperfect.

The truth is, you dealt with it. All of it. One hundred percent of it.

“Reaffirm your own ability to cope. When you are triggered, you may automatically want to avoid the feelings. Can you instead remind yourself that you can ride out the feelings, that this moment is temporary? Tell yourself that you can get through it. Example: Even if this party is a bad experience, I can get through it without overeating. And, in a few days, it won’t even matter.”  —Marson & Keenan-Miller (The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook, 2020)

A 100 percent success rate is pretty good evidence that you’ll deal with the next tough situation you face, even if it might not be perfect. Use that evidence to power yourself forward, to walk away from uncertainty knowing the truth: that you’ll manage just fine.

This evidence is the first thing you can use to quiet that panicking voice in your head.

Calm the Mental Chatter

There’s a part of your brain (and body) that has a very important job to do. It’s there to warn you when to fight, freeze, or flee. This is the part that makes you jump out of the way of a speeding car. It’s the part that makes you block a Frisbee coming toward you out of nowhere. Useful stuff.

But sometimes, this response goes into overdrive. It tells us that we shouldn’t ask for a raise because we might get turned down. It tells us that we shouldn’t ask our friend to hang out because we might not be witty enough or wear the coolest clothes. It makes up things to persuade us to avoid uncertain situations.

Thought suppression, or shutting down those invented warnings, doesn’t work well—you probably already know that.

Instead, we must accept these thoughts. Acknowledge them. Just as you’d acknowledge a friend who showed you kindness, acknowledge your anxious mental chatter.

Take a deep breath and acknowledge that every situation has some uncertainty. Yes, perhaps you will forget to get dressed and turn up to a meeting in the nude. But it’s incredibly unlikely. Address the barriers your brain puts up and see them for what they are: invented scenarios. Write them down; it can be easier to see how your brain is grasping at straws when your thoughts are written or typed out.

The Stability in Uncertainty

Facing fears and uncertainty isn’t just about doing something unnerving. Much of the time it’s the anticipation that is the most difficult. Much of the time, the thing we’re worried about never happens. Try to introduce helpful, neutral, or positive thoughts alongside the others.

And remember that you are the constant in an uncertain world.

Use this truth as more evidence to reassure yourself when dealing with uncertainty. Acknowledge the mental chatter and counter it with your evidence.

“Befriend yourself. Ask yourself what you would say to a friend or loved one who was in your position. What advice or encouragement would you give them? Example: I would say it’s normal to feel awkward when you don’t know anyone, but you’re awesome and these people would be happy to talk to you.” —Marson & Keenan-Miller (The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook, 2020)

For every worry, every uncertainty, and every catastrophe that pops into your head, say this out loud:

If that happens, I will deal with it. I will help myself, and I will ask for the help I need.

You have dealt with every uncertainty so far. And you can do it again. You’ve got this!


Marson, G., & Keenan-Miller, D. 2020. The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Miranda, J., Woo, S., Lagomasino, I., Hepner, K. A., Wiseman, S. & Munoz, R. 2006. Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression: Thoughts and Your Mood. Cognitive Behavioral Depression Division of Psychosocial Medicine, San Francisco General Hospital, University of California, San Francisco.

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