We all worry – it is a completely normal response to potentially threatening situations.

If you are waiting for your next grade, if you are stuck on the subway and running late for a meeting, it’s natural to become anxious and wonder “what if?”

But sometimes, people find that they worry quite often, and about a number of different things.

Understanding Worry

In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), worry can be understood as a difficulty with tolerating uncertainty.

It’s often in these uncertain situations where worry creeps in. Think about these situations:

  • A train stops in the tunnel for a few extra minutes, you might wonder, “What if I don’t make it to my meeting?”
  • You are studying for an exam, you might wonder “What if I fail?”
  • While boarding an airplane, you might wonder, “What if it crashes?”

Often times, the chances that these thoughts will come true are slim – but that doesn’t stop the worry.

Managing Worry

One strategy to manage worry is to try to increase your tolerance to uncertainty by decreasing the associated anxiety. In CBT, we call this Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). In ERP, we focus on trying to put you in situations that cause anxiety, and prevent you from doing whatever you would normally do to reduce the anxiety. Essentially, you ride the wave of anxiety. By doing this, the anxiety will stop all on its own after a period time.

Avoidance Behaviours

But what kind of behaviours do people who don’t like uncertainty engage in? Common behaviours include:

  • Avoidance
  • Procrastination
  • Reassurance-seeking
  • Not delegating tasks to others
  • Doing excessive research

Essentially, anything that might help you avoid the situation, get more certainty, or get more control, can help reduce the anxiety.

So, what do we do in ERP? We expose you to those situations. For example, if you are procrastinating on a task, then you could do it in the coming days. If you do all the bills, then you could ask your spouse to do them and not update you about it. If you eat at the same restaurant for lunch, then you could try one you don’t know anything about.

Over time, the anxiety starts to decrease as your brain realizes that uncertainty doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking. Through this process, your tolerance increases.

These exposures can often be challenging and can cause some initial distress while you are trying them. As such, it’s often helpful to do this under the guidance of a professional psychologist.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health provider or physician with any questions that you have regarding mental health concerns. If you think you have an emergency, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.