Managing Anxiety and Deciding with Uncertainty

Manage anxiety by deciding with uncertainty.

When you’re making a tough decision, all you can do is make the best choice for what you know right then and there.

Our brains like certainty, we are creatures of habit. We rely on pre-existing patterns that are familiar, which is safe and effortless. Many of our behaviors are habits and we do automatically, in a way, our brains are lazy, but they’re wired to survive, and we survive by being able to automatically do things.

Embrace the reality of not having all of the information and details today, not knowing exactly what the outcome will be.

Decision making when there is uncertainty is often made worse than it actually is by our brains. Again, your brain’s default settings is to blame, as it is just trying to look out for you. You may imagine future events, try to figure out any surprise, or situation that may not go according to plan. You may worry this unexpected thing may trigger more intense anxiety.

This way of distorted thinking is called fortune telling because you are making predictions. Fortune telling thoughts may snowball into catastrophizing. When we catastrophize, the predicting snowballs into the worst case scenario.

Those are distorted thoughts and can be reframed into more accurate and helpful ones, called cognitive reframing. When we don’t reframe our thoughts into helpful ones, this can lead to spiraling anxiety and negativity that is self-reinforced.

Allow yourself to be free from the assumption that you’re responsible for knowing the unknown.

It isn’t easy, but it’s a daily necessity. For some people, practicing this becomes easier over time. In order to manage anxiety you need to do what makes you feel uncomfortable.


Feeling like you don’t have control. That’s an emotional state, which is subjective interpretation. Place things to where you feel like you have more control.

Here are three additional steps from Psychology Compass that you can take:

  1. Evaluate the level of uncertainty for the decision that needs to be made.
  2. Check on your internal control, regain it if you need to through personal management.
  3. Check your external control, regain it if you can through situational management.

Psychology Compass has a fantastic article diving into a model for decision making when there’s uncertainty. I recommend reading it. It goes through each step listed above.

A decision making model for uncertainty


Anxiety and management resources here


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