A major trigger for anxiety is uncertainty. When you are not 100% sure of something you are more likely to worry about it. For example, if you aren’t sure of a decision (like picking a topic for a school project or whether to apply to a certain university) or of how something is going to turn out (such as what’s going to happen at that party), you’re probably going to worry. By worrying, we are trying to figure out all the possible ways things could go wrong so we can be more certain of the outcome.
The problem is that almost everything in life is uncertain because no one can predict the future.
If being uncertain about something makes you feel anxious, the best way to deal with it is to learn to become more comfortable with the experience of “not knowing.” One-hundred percent certainty about things is what you are trying to accomplish when you worry. This doesn’t work! If it did work, anxiety wouldn’t be a problem because you would already know how everything turns out!
We also try to gain certainty by repeatedly checking things or constantly seeking reassurance from others, such as asking, “Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” or “Are you sure you won’t leave me alone at the party?” (FYI this can get pretty annoying.)
So how do you become comfortable with uncertainty? The best way is to build your tolerance of it and to face your fear of not knowing.
Examples of this strategy might be:
- not re-reading texts or emails before sending them
- ordering something completely new at a restaurant
- completing a homework assignment without asking Mom or Dad to look it over first
- delegating an important part of a group school project to someone else
- not asking a friend if he or she likes something new that you bought
- telling yourself you’ll just have to see what happens at the party, rather than mentally rehearsing all your actions and conversations beforehand
At first you will probably feel anxious when you try using these tools. That is a sign you are on the right track! But the more you do it, the less anxious you’ll feel. Don’t take our word for it. Test it out! Watch the anxiety decrease as you fight your fear of uncertainty!
Remember: The only way to get over anxiety is to face it head on!
All these tools will probably feel uncomfortable when you first try them. Whenever we try something new or different, it usually feels a bit strange. This does not mean that you are doing something wrong. It means that you are starting to face your fears and get over them. The goal is not to prove to yourself that things will always work out (although most of the time they will), but to let yourself sit with anxiety or uncertainty and be okay.
It will take practice and perseverance, and falling into some traps again and again, but if you keep using your tools you will start to feel the benefits.
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
By Portia Nelson
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in I am lost … I am helpless It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. But, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street.