Why It’s Important to Learn to Manage Intolerance of Uncertainty
How do you cope with intolerance of uncertainty? We had some things happen in our household this week that reminded me of the importance of waiting in uncertainty.
What I mean by that is sometimes our anxiety causes us to want to find an answer or solution to our problem—right away.
We can’t stand the pain of waiting in uncertainty and so we look for the first possible answer or thing that we can do to make our pain go away. Our intolerance of uncertainty makes us short-sighted.
And the problem with this is, is that it makes us vulnerable.
In psychology, “intolerance of uncertainty” is usually used to refer to anxiety about general things like whether you might lose your job, be the victim of crime, or that a loved one will fall ill. But I think it applies to social anxiety as well.
Let’s consider the ways in which intolerance of uncertainty related to social anxiety causes problems in our lives.
Vulnerable to Others
When we can’t stand living in uncertainty, it makes us vulnerable to other people who might be looking to take advantage of us.
As an example, a person with social anxiety who feels uncertain being in social situations might be too easily swayed or convinced by someone without the best intentions.
This mostly happens to younger adults who are still finding their way in the world, but it can also happen all throughout your life.
Vulnerable to Poor Decisions
When you can’t tolerate the uncertainty of your situation, you are vulnerable to making poor decisions on your own.
For example, if you can’t tolerate the uncertainty of knowing whether someone likes you or not, you might instead be rejecting or unfriendly as a way to “pre-emptively” reject that person—before they can reject you.
Vulnerable to Poor Solutions
When you can’t live in uncertainty, you become vulnerable to finding poor solutions to your problems.
As an example, a person who can’t live with the uncertainty of whether they can handle a social or performance situation might turn to poor coping methods like drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.
You’re managing your uncertainty, but potentially damaging your life in other ways.
How to Manage Intolerance of Uncertainty
Here’s a quick tip to help you cope with intolerance of uncertainty related to social anxiety.
There are two steps:
First, you need to identify problems you can solve and those that are outside your control. What are some problems that are outside your control?
- You can’t control whether or not people like you.
- You can’t control how your body looks or how other people perceive your outward appearance.
- You can’t control how people react to your behavior.
- You can’t control that sometimes you will feel anxious.
Next, take everything that you can’t control and throw it in a giant imaginary wastebasket in your head.
For those things that are within your control, make a plan on how to solve them.
What are examples of things that you can control?
- You can control how well you live your life and if it aligns with your core values.
- You can control your outward appearance in terms of your style and taking care of yourself.
- You can control the development of your social skills and assertiveness.
- You can control how you respond to your anxiety
The following video describes some ways to manage anxiety related to the intolerance of uncertainty.
Proactive Steps You Can Take
So what can you do?
Perhaps you can write in your journal about your core values and then evaluate how much you are living in alignment with these values. When this part of your life is strong, you will be less likely to fall prey to others looking to make you a victim.
You could also work on your style and appearance—but only in ways that pleases you. Your goal is not to present yourself in a way that you think other people will like, but rather to feel confident in what you’ve chosen because it makes you feel good about yourself.
You could also work on developing your social skills and assertiveness so that you feel less uncertain walking into social situations.
Finally, you could learn skills like thought challenging, deep breathing, and mindfulness meditation to practice managing anxiety symptoms when they arise.
But know that solving these doesn’t mean not being uncomfortable. As they say, the only way out is through. You may need to feel worse before you can feel better.