When I was pregnant with my first child, a friend offered me a pearl of wisdom that has not only stayed with me as a parent, but that I have used many times in my work as a psychologist. “Don’t get too comfortable with anything,” she said. “Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, your child is going to change.” This was my friend’s interpretation of the well-known quote, “Change is the only constant in life” credited to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus.
Unfortunately, we may not be able to predict change. The future is often uncertain. Consider your ability to tolerate life’s uncertainties. Do you have a low tolerance for uncertainty? Are you a worrier who regularly asks “what if” questions?
If your answer to any of the following questions is “yes,” you might have a low tolerance for uncertainty which is the root cause of many anxiety disorders.
- Do you order the same food every time you go to your favorite restaurant, because you prefer knowing with certainty that you will enjoy it?
- Do you often engage in checking behaviors such as checking to make sure that you have your phone with you, that the door is locked, that the flat iron is unplugged?
- Do you excessively wash or sanitize your hands or those of your children because you are unsure if they are clean enough?
The good news is that you can begin the journey toward tolerating uncertainty by following the four steps below.
Breathe: Research shows that spending a few minutes every day practicing deep breathing will lower your baseline level of anxiety and stress and improve your ability to cope with life’s stressors. There are many great apps and recordings available to guide you through the steps. Visit www.goamra.org for some the latest research on the positive effects of breathing and mindfulness.
Focus on the Present Moment: People who struggle with anxiety tend to spend too much time focusing on the future. Make every effort to catch yourself when you are doing this and remind yourself to focus on what is going on right now.
Ignore the Voice Inside Your Head: Often times, worries sound like a voice inside your head telling you that something is too scary or too risky to do. Ignore that voice and remind yourself that the voice is rooted in irrational fears.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone on a Regular Basis: Avoiding situations that make you uncomfortable will only serve strengthen avoidance in the future. The only way to get comfortable with uncertainty is to take reasonable risks as often as possible.
The steps above, while simple, may not be easy. But with some repetition, you will find yourself getting more comfortable with uncertainty.