This is Part 6 of my series of articles on anxiety.
Well, maybe not really the best friend. But, definitely something that we better learn to at least tolerate or, preferably, embrace.
In my sessions, I often ask patients to name things that they are totally certain of (other than the fact that we will all die one day). I have yet to hear of another absolutely certain thing. If you are the first one to come up with an idea, please email me, and I will add it to this article.
In spite of everything being uncertain, people with anxiety have a pretty low tolerance of uncertainty. In fact, Intolerance of Uncertainty is the common denominator of most anxiety disorders.
Thus, anxious people spend their life in an exhausting and never-ending pursuit of reducing the uncertainty.
This is especially characteristic of people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but in my clinical experience, people with other anxiety disorders also experience it to some extent.
Unfortunately, in their futile attempts to reduce uncertainty, anxious people become preoccupied with analyzing all possible outcomes of a situation. In essence, that is excessive worrying about that situation, which, in turn, leads to anxiety.
Ironically, people often mistakenly perceive this worry as useful, hoping that it will help them be better prepared for potentially threatening situations in the future.
Or, they feel as if worry gives them control over the situation.
Others believe that worry motivates them to do better.
It's as if some people worry to prevent worrying in the future.
Interestingly, people with high intolerance of uncertainty are anxious even when everything goes well, as they worry that things may change for the worse.
Oftentimes, people are not really aware to which extent the urge to reduce uncertainty affects their life. They engage in excessive research before making any decision, seek reassurance, or, alternatively, avoid making decision altogether.
So, what is the effective way to reduce the uncertainty?
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to reduce ambiguity in our lives beyond basic common-sense stuff.
Uncertainty is unavoidable. Therefore, rather than fruitlessly attempting to reduce Uncertainty, the way to go about it is to concentrate your efforts on Increasing Your Tolerance of Uncertainty.
To do that, you have to be willing to experience the discomfort needed to let things unfold.
You can start small:
Go to a restaurant without reading reviews and checking the menu.
Limit the time researching the product you want to buy.
Review your email only once before sending it.
Start a conversation with a person at your yoga class.
Similar to facing other fears, when facing the Uncertainty and learning to tolerate it, you will learn two important things:
1. Most your worries will not come true.
2. When things don't go as you wanted them to, you have better coping abilities than you had given yourself credit for.
It's true that initially you will feel more anxious if you stop fighting the Uncertainty. But, on the other hand, if you learn to tolerate Uncertainty better, a whole new world will open up in front of you. Not to mention, lots of free time (that you used to waste worrying).
Anna Prudovski is a Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Turning Point Psychological Services. She has a special interest in treating anxiety disorders and OCD, as well as working with parents.
Anna lives with her husband and children in Vaughan, Ontario. When she is not treating patients, supervising clinicians, teaching CBT, and attending professional workshops, Anna enjoys practicing yoga, going on hikes with her family, traveling, studying Ayurveda, and spending time with friends. Her favorite pastime is reading.