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The Fear Of Uncertainty

how to manage anxiety

Lynn Garbutt offers CBT therapy at both ‘CBT and Counselling Kent’s’ Ashford and Egerton practice. Lynn provides some guidance below on how to manage anxiety during uncertain times.

What is behind fear?

It is common to feel uncomfortable when there is uncertainty about the future. Or, if we don’t feel in control of things happening in our life. It goes without saying, that we would all like to know that our job and income are fully secure. So we are able to pay our mortgage/rent and bills.

We would also like to be certain that the dream holiday will turn out as we imagined, and we have a safe, trouble free flight. Invitations to parties, which are supposed to fun, can also fill us with uncertainty. Questions can run through our mind, such as ‘who will be there?’ or ‘what if nobody talks to me’ or ‘I won’t know what to say?’ Although these are quite natural, human concerns, it’s when concern turns to anxiety, that it can leave us feeling out of control or debilitated.

Where does fear begin?

We tend to experience fear when we cannot predict a definitive outcome in a given situation. And we are all different in how much uncertainty we are prepared to accept. Some people enjoy taking risks, while others prefer to have a more certain handle on the future. Although all of us have a limit, when we feel overwhelmed by uncertainty, it causes anxiety. However, it is important to recognise that you are not alone.

It is also important to understand, no matter how anxious you might feel. There are steps you can take to deal with situations that are uncontrollable. Whilst alleviating your anxiety, and facing the unknown with more confidence. When people fear uncertainty, they often find ways to lessen that uncertainty by trying to gain control in other areas of their lives.

This can lead to, what is known as, ‘obsessive compulsive behaviour’ (OCD This is a desperate search to feel in control over and manage other situations. It can often be in a form of superstition. For example, ‘if I perform this ritual then everything will be ok’.

People who fear uncertainty, tend to believe that they MUST control and know the outcome of future events. They also believe that they just CANNOT cope without that knowledge! This is known as ‘catastrophising’ – believing something a might awful will happen. Eeven though they rarely think through what that terrible thing might be. Chronic sufferers are often continuously in a heightened state of anxiety, with only brief periods of relief.

Preferences vs demands

The root of this problem often stems from ‘demands’ (the shoulds’, musts and needs) for certainty – in a world that is full of uncertainty. For example, “I MUST know that everything is going to be OK”. This is the unhelpful belief that we NEED to know the outcome of all future events, in order to be able to tolerate it.

This uncertainty leads to uncomfortable feelings of worry and anxiety. This conflict between the ‘demand’ for certainty and the reality that we cannot be certain about everything that will keep the anxiety cogs continually going around.

It goes without saying; we would all like to know for definite that our loved ones are safe, and our jobs are secure. However, demanding that we have certainty about it, does nothing to guarantee the outcome. The only thing it does is lead to us to feeling worried, unsure and anxious.

By recognising what is in your control and what is not – and start facing the unavoidable doubt about what could happen in the future can indeed seem formidable. But it is the first step in letting go of the fear. Not having certainty, it can indeed feel uncomfortable, however, when you recognise that is ALL it is ‘uncomfortable’ you stop fighting the feeling and it becomes so much easier to bear.

How to manage anxiety

It is important to understand the difference between a ‘demand’ and a ‘preference’. Demands are inflexible, unaccepting ways of thinking. That’s because we only want, or do not want, one particular outcome.

‘Preferences’ on the other hand are much more flexible and much more accepting of ourselves, situations and other people.

Here is an example – When we go on holiday, we all like to arrive on time and safely as planned. There are some elements of the holiday within our control – like packing our favourite clothes. However, if the plane is delayed by 3 hours this is completely out of our control.

We have no control over what we think or how we feel about the delay, but we do have control over how RESPOND to it. For example, we could go to customer services and demand that the plane arrives on time. We could argue and tell everybody how unfair it is that our holiday is off to a bad start and feel thoroughly miserable. Or alternatively, we could acknowledge that we would ‘prefer’ things to be different but accept the situation for what it is. This does not mean we necessarily like it however, but we are at least rational about it.

A preferential response in this situation might be along the lines of – “well I would have preferred it if we had left on time, but it’s out my control. Therefore, I may as well sit down have a coffee and read my book” In both cases the plane is still delayed, but your view on the delay is different and by holding that preference you are less troubled and anxious.

It’s how we view things

Stoic thinker Epictetus suggested that ‘People are disturbed not by things but by the views they take of them” He claimed that mental attitudes such as desires, hopes, wishes (preferences) are generally in your control. Whilst external events – including whether you know the outcome of future events – are not.

We can of course, take reasonable precautions to keep us safe from harm and put things in place to try and ensure things go to plan. However, it is important to accept, there are some things we have no control over, but we can enjoy our lives anyway. When we learn to accept and turn our ‘demands’ into ‘preferences’ we are taking the first step into overcoming the fear of losing control and uncertainty.

A last point to think about. Imagine you are trying to cross a road to get to a beautiful beach on the other side. It would of course be foolish to cross if a car was coming. But it would be even more foolish and self-defeating to not cross that road at all, if there was no car in site – just in case a car came along! Do not let fear stop you from crossing your road!

How CBT & Counselling Kent can help

Our therapists can help you learn how to manage anxiety. This is achieved by helping you learn to view things differently and in a more helpful way.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is not about encouraging you to ‘enjoy’ situations that you don’t happen to like. It’s about helping you understand the importance of being logical and rational and looking at fact rather than interpretation. Additonally, it’s about learning to understand – that even we don’t necssarily ‘like’ a situation we are still able to tolerate it.

CBT helps you identify and challenge any unhealthy beliefs you may hold about any event, whilst helping you identify and re-enforce a series of much more helpful and rational beliefs. By challenging your beliefs, you can change the way you think, act and ultimately feel.

If you would like some professional help on how to manage anxiety. Please contact us at CBT and Counselling Kent today. https://bit.ly/CBTcontact_us

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