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Surviving and Succeeding in Face of Uncertainty: Six Strategies

Events like Hurricanes, terrorist attacks and school shootings  assault us with the uncertainties of life.

Such events undermine our necessary denial that life is predictable, that children can be safe and that we can be in control.

For a time, we are left wounded, shaken, vulnerable and afraid. Caught in the traumatic moment, we fill in the future unknowns with expectations of more of the same trauma so that next time we will be ready.

Eventually, despite the memory, the extreme loss, the bodily injuries and even the fear, we want our lives back, we want our children to play, and we want to smile…

We need to find a way to survive and at times even succeed with life’s uncertainties.

Here are six strategies that may begin to answer that need. Some you may already use. Some you may want to consider.

Validation of True Self

  • Often recognition of who we are and what we need in life out-trumps the fear of uncertainty. Two years after the tragic terrorist attack that killed a number of people and injured many running in the Boston Marathon, the trial of the bomber commenced as the crowds gathered and the runners went back to run– it is who they are.
  • Not dissimilar are Long Islanders  after Hurricane Sandy, who report that faced with extreme weather patterns, altered and destroyed shore lines,  incomplete renovations, and more hurricane seasons report understandable fears.   Many have left, but many remain. They report a “magnetic draw” to the water. As one man shares, “We don’t have very long memories . . . We live on an island and this is where we live, on the water.”
  • Now beyond what is even imaginable, we can only  hope the people of Nepal will find a way to survive, cope and re-capture the essence of their lives.

Personal Certainty Anchors

  • In his book, Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields speaks of the importance of personal rituals as certainty anchors to offset the unpredictable and uncontrollable aspects of life.
  • The daily routine of reading the paper with your favorite cup of coffee, your daily meditation,the car pool conversation, your evening run, favorite TV show, iPod music, crossword puzzle, family meal, favorite toy and nighttime ritual lower hyperarousal and stress in adults and children.
  • As such they offer comfort and soothing on the good days and can help re-set a sense of order on days that hold the unexpected challenges.
  • They don’t prevent the onslaught of trauma and disaster but they are the little things that become big when we are inching our way back from disaster.

Emotional Bonds

  • A universal factor that mediates our experience of uncertainty is our connection with others.
  • Experts tell us that in the aftermath of unexpected catastrophe, it is connection with familiar networks of support (family, community, schools, pets) that re-instates a sense safety. The bond in such groups offers predictable support and validation.
  • Given the parent-child stress connection, we know that a parent’s own stress regulation and sense of constancy is a reliable resource that offsets the impact of the unexpected for a child.
  • One has only to see a parent walk into the unknown to find or help their child or a soldier step back into combat to save his buddy, to know that bonds of connection far outweigh fears of uncertainty.

Belief Systems

  • In the face of life’s uncertainties, man has for centuries turned to belief in a higher power to seek answers or seek solace.
  • After 9/11, the churches and houses of worship were overflowing. Faced with unfathomable loss and destruction, people sought the comfort of a higher power and a community of worshipers.
  • For believers, trust in a higher power is transformative in that it reduces fear and invites acceptance. They are certain in their faith.
  • It is what gives them the strength to take on each day. It is what gives them hope in the aftermath of loss.


  • Whether we realize it or not, all of us use trust to negotiate life in an uncertain world.
  • Trust in ourselves, in others, in science, in probability, in skills, in the power of thought and the advances of technology is central to our functioning.
  • On a daily basis we assume the best and trust that the train will come, the school bus driver knows how to drive, the plane will land, the food in the deli is safe to eat, the prescribed medication in correct, the cell phone will work and the plumber knows what to do.
  • Could we ever agree to surgery if each of us did not trust that “ our doctor” was the number one in his/her field?
  • Most have had their trust shaken and even betrayed; but our capacity to suspend fear and start to trust again–makes the future possible.

Uncertainty Re-defined

While we have suffered with unexpected catastrophes that for a time have shut us down, embracing uncertainty as a door to the unknown allows for the emergence of the creative thought and the unexpected insight. Being open to uncertainty has given us much of what we cherish.

Managing uncertainty is a part of what we do every day when we reach beyond fear,  step beyond the limits, and find an unexpected way to go forward.



Surviving and Succeeding in Face of Uncertainty: Six Strategies

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP

Suzanne B. Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist. She is Adjunct Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Doctoral Program of Long Island University and on the faculty of the Post-Doctoral Programs of the Derner Institute of Adelphi University. Suzanne Phillips, PsyD and Dianne Kane are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Learn more about their work at . Visit Suzanne's Facebook Page HERE.

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APA Reference
Phillips, S. (2018). Surviving and Succeeding in Face of Uncertainty: Six Strategies. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 10 Sep 2018
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