Intolerance of Uncertainty and Learning How to Cope

I need to be SURE! 

Worry is a normal human experience, and chances are, you’ve worried too! But there is a difference between worrying sometimes, and being so uncomfortable with not being certain that worry takes over. If you need to be in control with everything to feel secure, and you try to avoid the unexpected, you may be intolerant of uncertainty. 

In psychology, intolerance of uncertainty is about feeling very uncomfortable with being unsure about the future. It often leads to excessive worry and taking steps to increase your sense of certainty about what will or won’t happen, such as:

 ·     Worrying - often saying or thinking ‘What if…’?

·     Double, and triple checking just to ‘make sure’.

·     Avoiding making a decision in case it isn’t ‘right’, or asking someone else to make it for you.

·     Mentally planning for every outcome.

·     Over doing research when buying something or making a decision, to be sure it’s right.

·     Asking for a lot of reassurance.

·     Putting off or procrastinating.

·     Making lots of lists.

·     Doing everything yourself so that it’s done ‘right’ – rather than delegate.

Now, we all have some concerns about the future and we all worry from time to time, but if you are intolerant of uncertainty you would often engage in these time consuming, draining ways of trying to make the feeling go away, and to eliminate that uncertainty. That’s a lot of time and energy, exhausting right? 

This ‘threat’ orientated thinking is neither a happy nor pleasant place to be. 

I hear you say ‘but if I didn’t worry, I’d never get anything done!’ Maybe you’re thinking, ‘right, but how am I supposed to cover all bases?!’ If you are thinking like this, then you may be acting as if certainty actually exists.  Benjamin Franklin once said -  “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

He wasn’t wrong!

We waste our energy trying to increase certainty, when it is actually impossible,  because we cannot control everything. So, if trying to achieve certainty and control is the problem, what is the solution? We increase our tolerance of uncertainty. Now that is possible. 

But how?

There are a number of steps we can take to work on reducing our intolerance or uncertainty:

 ·     Learning to recognise the difference between a ‘practical problem’ and ‘hypothetical worry’ – practice keeping a worry diary for a few minutes each day so that you can catch the worry as it comes along – recognition is the first step to being able to do something about it.

·     Developing your skills with being mindfully present and dealing with the reality of the here and now, rather than what ‘may’ happen in the future, even if you envision that future is only five minutes from now.

·     Improving your practical problem solving skills to help you with confident decision making.

 ·     Working on Acceptance of the facts as they are in the here and now, rather than fighting with things. Acceptance means you can make more appropriate decisions about what is actually happening.

 ·     Building up your belief that you can deal with whatever comes, as it comes, rather than depleting your resilience through future worry. You can do this by actively engaging in the present and using your problem solving and interpersonal skills to cope and manage successfully in the here and now.

Remember that the more you try to achieve certainty and control, the more you will feel uncertain and exhausted.  But, you can work on accepting uncertainty and developing skills for the here and now, and if you would like any more information, you can get in touch, I am happy to help. 

Sarah Foran-Kent