Tolerating uncertainty: It’s hard for kids and adults

Recently, I have taken the plunge and have opened my own clinical practice. Now, I get to practice the skill of tolerating uncertainty, the same set of skills I practice with my patients. Tolerating uncertainty is a very difficult topic to discuss and address in session and it runs commonly across all the anxiety disorders.

How do we go about tolerating uncertainty? In general, I address that while we think we have “control” over our life, we have mostly (95% or more) reactionary lives. If you think about it, there are few instances in which we consciously think about what decision to make, how to react, or what to do. We mostly just react in the moment, but somehow we have a perception that our initial reactions are always within our control. When I have patients confronting this difficult issue, I tell them to examine 5 consecutive days of their life and see the percentage of decisions and reactions they had in which they consciously chose to react or chose a certain path. The numbers usually come back around 1-5% (that fall within conscious or purposeful decision-making).

We also believe that somehow if we are worried or concerned about the things that make us feel anxious, that somehow reduces the chances of the bad outcome happening. Logically, we can recognize that worrying about something (while non-productive) does nothing to prevent a bad outcome from happening, but it can feel much better to feel like you are doing something, rather than just accepting an uncertain fate. Take a look at your life this week and look at all the things you could be worrying about (e.g., your child’s health, being in a natural disaster, etc.) that you are not. Your brain can start to get practice recognizing your “Achilles heel” (that is, where your anxiety resides), and increasing the skills you already have in place managing other potentially anxiety-laden areas.

Also, in case anyone is interested. My new practice is the “Washington Anxiety Center of Capitol Hill” at www.washingtonanxietycenter.com. Come by and visit us!

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