How To Build Your Tolerance For Uncertainty

Build-Your-ToleranceDespite the fact that most of us know that worrying never helps, we tend to do it anyway. We worry that we won’t get a parking space at the restaurant that we’re going to, and that our pants will wrinkle before the end of the night. And then we worry that we will get home too late to fall asleep by 10, which means we’ll be tired tomorrow, which means that we’ll get cancer and die.

Did we really just joke about cancer? We did, but only to show how insignificant most of our worries really are. Actually, one school of thought, called existential therapy teaches that the fear of eventual death is at the base of many of our misfortunes. However, the truth is, that whether we are facing imminent death, or just a bad-hair-day, worrying is still ineffective.

Part of what makes worrying so addictive, is the fact that there are an infinite number of “what if?” questions that we can ask ourselves when we are dealing with an uncertain situation. The part of our brains that seek logic and understanding tries to tell us that if we can only “think ahead,” then we could nip potential problems in the bud. The problem with this approach is that it takes us out of the present, and doesn’t let us enjoy the here and now.

How different would we feel, if, instead of worrying about finding parking, and wrinkled pants, we actually enjoyed the trip to the restaurant? What if we were to notice the sights and sounds around us, and maybe even embrace the unknown?

In their ground-breaking book, “The Generalized Anxiety Disorder Workbook,” Drs. Michel J. Dugas, and Martin M. Antony offer several practical tools for dealing with worry. Don’t let the name Generalized Anxiety Disorder scare you, these practices can help everyone whether a diagnosable anxiety disorder is present or not.

Dugas and Antony propose doing “experiments,” in which you try something new, and write about your experience. These experiments can be as simple as not checking your phone for 20 minutes, as long as the practice brings you outside of your comfort zone. Of course, you will experience some anxiety during these tests, but the idea is to slowly increase the intensity of the experiments over time. That way, you will be growing your tolerance for uncertainty. Just like a muscle, this part of you will get stronger, the more that you practice.

So, what are some experiments to try? Of course, everyone is different, so these may or may not work for you, but here are some common examples:

To Work On: Try:
Fear of not being in control. Letting your partner/friend take you out without knowing
where you are going.
Fear of making a mistake. Buying a new piece of clothing without asking anyone
else’s opinion.
Fear of being embarrassed. Fear of being embarrassed.
Fear of being a burden. Returning an item without a receipt.

Like we said, these are just some examples of common fears. Only you know which experiments would work best for you. Maybe these sound easy, in which case, your particular fears are probably not mentioned here.

If you’d like some assistance coming up with experiments that target your fears, or talking about worry, in general, please contact us. We are here to help!