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Health Anxiety and the Intolerance of Uncertainty

Health Anxiety and the Intolerance of Uncertainty

People with health anxiety tend to have certain underlying core beliefs about health and illness. One type of belief is the assumption that one should be 100 percent certain about their health status at all times. This is not only unnecessary but an unattainable goal.

After all, since we live in an uncertain world, we cannot be certain about anything in life, and health is no exception. The fear of the unknown is a construct that has a name. It is called the “intolerance of uncertainty.” People with high levels of intolerance of uncertainty see uncertain situations or events in the future as threatening and as being difficult or impossible to cope with.

Grasping for Certainty

However, people with health anxiety struggle with the inability to be absolutely certain that they do not have a health problem. Thus, when a symptom or bodily sensation pops up, they must find the answer or cause for this symptom. When they are unable to do so, they often enter a downward spiral and conclude that the lack of certain means they will have a serious disease and/or die. They then seek certainty through tests, medical consults, talking with friends and family, or searching the internet and find that they are continuously dissatisfied because it is impossible to know their health status with 100 percent certainty.

Learning to Become Friendly with Uncertainty

So, how does one address the intolerance of uncertainty? They learn to reshape how they see uncertainty altogether. Think about it this way. Imagine if you woke up in the morning and knew every single detail about your day in advance. Imagine you knew exactly how your food would taste, the jokes that your coworkers would tell, every cute thing your kids would do, the romantic surprise your partner had, the news that would hit the headlines, or who would win the fame. Now, imagine if you knew all of that detail every single day for the rest of your life? How boring is that? Uncertainty might be scary at times, but it also makes life interesting and fun.

Another way to think of it is to reflect on the times in your life when something unexpected turned out to be amazing. Perhaps it was meeting your significant other, a surprise party, a promotion, or welcoming a new child into your home. If you lived in a world of certainty, you would lose all of the beauty and enjoyment that comes with the unexpected things in life. So, instead of seeing uncertainty as inherently bad, work on seeing the beautiful aspects. All things come at a cost.

In our beautiful, exciting, and sometimes unpredictable world, we have to accept that good and bad things will occur. Instead of fearing and dreading the unknown, put your energy into enjoying the good and equip yourself to cope with the bad.

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