TC Psychology

The Problem with Uncertainty

Published on 20 May 2022

You may have noticed that when you look back, situations involving uncertainty have been really hard to deal with. Research tells us that dealing with uncertainty is extremely difficult for humans, so if you can relate to this, you are human! 

When we think about how our brains work, this makes total sense. Our brain’s main priority is survival, and therefore it looks out for threats to make sure we are safe. When a situation is certain, even if it’s something we don’t like, we can at least predict what might happen, and plan how we might cope. 

But when there is an element of uncertainty, our brains struggle to anticipate what might happen, how we will cope or what the end result will be. And because we are prone to focusing on threat, it is very common that our brains will try to think of different scenarios, which may involve ‘worst case scenario’ thinking. Even if we can think of several different potential outcomes, it is very common for our brain to believe that the worst case will happen. 

Let’s use an example of health – if you experience an unusual symptom, you might look online for answers, only to discover lots of different potential causes, including some very serious ones. It is quite common for people to then begin to believe that the worst-case scenario (i.e. the serious medical condition) must be true. 

Because of our brain’s focus on threat and therefore often on worst case thinking, it is really important that we can find ways of noticing when this happens so that we can find ways to reduce it. 

Here are some top tips:

  1. Notice when you are worrying and ask yourself if there is an element of uncertainty about the situation you are worrying out.
  2. If there is uncertainty, then remind yourself that this is your brain doing what is automatically does. In other words, it is trying to keep you safe 
  3. Remind yourself (out loud if needed) that there are actually several different potential outcomes, and keep in mind that the worst case very very rarely happens. 
  4. It can help to think back to other situations in which you worried about the worst case, and it just didn’t happen. 
  5. Remind yourself thar you can cope with difficult things – think about the evidence that you are actually resilient, that you’ve handled difficult situations before. 
  6. Find ways that work for you to make you feel safer – this could be talking to someone you trust, doing something you enjoy, or doing something that you know you find relaxing. 

Dr Theresa Comer, Clinical Psychologist

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