We worry because we are afraid of uncertainty. Considering that uncertainty is a fact of life, worry is sure to be a major component of our lives. But it doesn’t have to be…
What you didn’t know about worry may surprise you. We worry in an attempt to reduce uncertainty. Many people believe that worry keeps them safe. They believe that worry helps to motivate them and assists in avoiding bad things. These are known as positive beliefs about worry and they keep us stuck in a cycle of destruction.
Think about it, has your worrying REALLY made anything more certain or more predictable? Has it kept you safe or has it led to further anxiety and depression?
Worrying mistakenly leads you to believe that you have more control and certainty than you really do. I often ask clients to complete a worry experiment during their therapy with me. On the first day of the experiment they are allowed to worry as much as they like (worry up day) about anything and everything. On the second day they have to control their worry more and delay it until a certain time in the day (Called a Worry Down Day). The third day is another worry-up day and so on. They continue this for 5-7 days and then we review the results together.
We look at whether they were more successful and had less problems on the days that they were allowed to worry compared with the days they had to worry less and delay their worry. Each and every time the outcome revealed that their worry days weren’t more successful. In fact, the amount of worry had little relevance to the outcome. This shows clients that their worry is unproductive despite their positive beliefs about worry.
Life is uncertain, that’s a fact. It’s merely a perception that you are somehow more in control if you worry. Is worrying about uncertainty really worth it? Well, I can assure you it’s not and it’s time to try something new.
The two main strategies for dealing with uncertainty:
1.Challenge intolerance of uncertainty
Ask yourself these questions:
Is it possible to be certain about everything in life?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of requiring certainty?
How is needing certainty helpful or unhelpful?
Do you tend to predict that bad things will happen just because they are uncertain? What about a positive or neutral outcome – is that possible too?
How likely is it that the things you predict will actually happen?
Is it possible to live with a small chance of something bad happening given that the likelihood of it occurring are low?
Can you live with some uncertainty in life? How would you do this? if you can cope this way in one area of life, how about doing the same in other areas?
Ask a friend how they cope with uncertainty.
2. Acceptance and Mindfulness
Our minds tend to be focused on the future when we struggle with uncertainty. We tend to think with a lot of “What ifs…?” One way to help yourself is to focus on the present moment.
Mindfulness helps you to get out of your busy mind that’s worrying and into the reality around you. When you focus your five senses on the reality around you, your brain does not have the capacity to ruminate endlessly.
The basics of mindfulness
- BEING AWARE
Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. What does your ‘mental diet’ look like? Acknowledge thoughts and feelings and say something like this to yourself: “Aaah, so that’s how it is?” Create some distance between you and your thinking as if you are an observer of your mind.
2. LETTING GO
Let go of the need for a quick fix! Say something like, “It’s only a need for certainty, just let it go”.
3. BEING NON JUDGEMENTAL
Bring a gentle curiosity to the thoughts that drift by without judging them or necessarily taking them as truth. The return your focus back to the here-and-now. Focus on what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste.
When we are in our minds, we are often in enemy territory. Stop frightening yourself with scary thoughts that may never happen. Stop the mental torture, accept that uncertainty is something we have to accept and make the most of your life each day.