By Pamela Leland, PhD, Executive Director
A recent broken leg, with its resulting surgery, wheelchair, crutches and physical therapy, has reminded me yet again that the very nature of life is change.
Some of us already know this intimately. We have faced unexpected chronic or incurable illnesses. We have found ourselves unemployed. We’ve faced divorce, car accidents, unexpected health crises or sudden death. When these things happen – whether to us or those we care about – we are reminded that control is an illusion. Life is uncertain.
Older adults have learned this lesson after decades of life experience. This is part of the wisdom of our elders. Unfortunately, and in spite of this experiential knowledge, older adults can fall into the same thought patterns of stress and anxiety when faced with uncertainty and change. Heightened stress levels can have a variety of negative health impacts including heart disease and ultimately death.
The irony is that uncertainty and change can also provide opportunities to become our better – and stronger – selves. We know that adversity brings out heroes. We have all witnessed that hard times bring out strength, kindness, compassion and generosity.
So rather than trying to control uncertainty and change, maybe we should consider the benefits of uncertainty. Maybe we can learn to lean into uncertainty. What can unexpected change or crises teach us?
The benefits of leaning into uncertainty include:
- The opportunity to cultivate gratitude and wonder and mystery.
- The opportunity to build our emotional intelligence.
- The opportunity to use our creativity.
- The opportunity to strengthen our skills in reframing and planning. Rather than falling into stress and anxiety, a better response to uncertainty is to be prepared for what might happen.
- The opportunity to take negative energy and turn it into a positive motivation.
Fully embracing uncertainty may seem to be more than we can expect of ourselves. With intention and discipline, however, we can imagine the possibilities that uncertainty brings. We can choose to face uncertainty with optimism. We can join with others to face uncertainty with hope and shared commitment. We can lean into uncertainty knowing that we are a part of families and a community who will care for another through the unexpected situations and changes that will, most certainly, come.
Printed in the Daily Local News on Wednesday, November 14, 2018.