Just stop worrying....
We all worry at times – especially during a pandemic!
Worry is a ‘normal’ part of being human but when we worry excessively, daily life becomes draining, overwhelming and starts to really get us down (definitely not what we need when we are finding our way through yet another lockdown).
Often the worries that impact us the most are about things that have not even happened yet (or might never happen), which makes the process of worrying even more frustrating! Unfortunately it’s not as simple as ‘just stop worrying or try not to think about it’.
So what keeps us worrying?
The techniques and tools people are taught through CBT are very much based on research and evidence that they are effective. In terms of worrying, CBT focuses on the identified link between intolerance of uncertainty and excessive worry.
If we consider worrying as; a thought process that involves us considering every possible outcome to try and gain some idea of how something will turn out, it is understandable that a low tolerance of uncertainty means only a hint of feeling uncertain about something generates a chain of ‘what if?’ thoughts and worse case scenarios.
Unfortunately the current COVID situation has meant we have been exposed to prolonged and more intense feelings of uncertainty and with that, a much heightened sense of worry and anxiety.
CBT helps people recognise that the function of considering all eventualities is to try and increase a sense of certainty about the situation, to make themselves feel better and more in control. However, life often throws us curve balls as we have witnessed over the last year, and we are never going to be 100% certain of how something (no matter how well planned) will turn out.
If we keep striving for certainty, we will keep needing to worry.
Therefore it is much more helpful to focus on increasing our tolerance of uncertainty because once we are ok with it, we won’t need to spend our time consumed with considering all possible outcome to things that have not yet happened.
CBT helps people understand this in more depth by supporting them to explore and identify how particular things they do or don’t do, can stop them from learning they can be ok with uncertainty.
Through therapy people are supported to make manageable changes to their behaviour to increase their tolerance and thus reduce their worry.
If you worry a lot or dislike uncertainty and feeling you are not in control you may relate to some of these behaviours; over-planning/preparing (for example; having a plan A, B, C and D or always checking google maps), seeking reassurance, checking/re-checking ( for example; triple checking emails or texts - so you can be certain there are no errors), putting off making a decision because you are not sure it is the right one, doing everything yourself (so you know it is done ‘right’), avoidance, procrastination, overly researching/looking into things before taking any action (even when buying someone a gift because you can’t be certain it’s the right one).
These behaviours are a few of the common coping strategies people use to try and reduce their feelings of uncertainty and each time they act this way they reinforce the need to worry.
CBT helps people change these behaviours – in a manageable way – to help them learn to be ok when things feel uncertain or outside of their control.
Once you can tolerate uncertainty you will find your worry reduces because you no longer need to consider every possible outcome of uncertain situations... imagine how liberating that might feel.