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Worrying And Uncertainty

No-Pills Anxiety Buster

By Dr. David H. Rosmarin

Worry involves “thoughts, images, and emotions of a negative nature in which mental attempts are made to avoid anticipated potential threats.” More specifically, worry almost invariably involves the use of two key words: “What if . . . ?” followed by some catastrophic thought.

What if I lose my job?

What if the economy collapses?

What if I have cancer?

What if the sky caves in?

Why do people worry? One popular theory in the scientific literature suggests that it boils down to intolerance of uncertainty. When people can’t tolerate when they don’t know what’s going to happen next, they tend to worry a lot. That may sound like a fairly obvious idea, but it has important implications for treatment. If intolerance of uncertainty causes worry, then reducing worry must involve increasing one’s tolerance of uncertainty.

Here are three strategies:

1. Accept that uncertainty is a part of life. Face the music and realize that there are just some things we can’t control.

2. Schedule five minutes a day at a predetermined time to worry about everything you’re concerned about. During that time, try to build up your capacity to face unavoidable uncertainties in your life.

3. Prioritize your activities so that they aren’t being driven by worry. Yes, it is possible that the economy will collapse and it may be reasonable to have a plan if that happens. However, there are (hopefully) more pressing things to put on your agenda today than preparing for an event that may or may not happen anytime soon.

Worry is hard to treat with a short-term program, but if you try these strategies for 6 to 8 months, there’s a good chance you’ll be less worried. v

David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., is an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Anxiety in Manhattan, a clinical-research facility with a focus on the Jewish community. He can be reached at

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Posted by on May 23, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.