Why can't we just stop worrying?
We all worry at times – it is a ‘normal’ part of being human but when we worry excessively daily life becomes draining, overwhelming and really get us down. Often the worries that get us down 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 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 certain things can be 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 a hint of feeling uncertain about something will generate a chain of ‘what if?’ thoughts and worse case scenarios.
CBT helps people recognise the function of considering all eventualities is to try and increase a sense of certainty about the situation, to make themselves feel better. However life often throws us curveballs 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 certain things they do or don’t do, stops 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..