If you suffer with anxiety there is a good chance you regularly seek some form of reassurance. We’ve all done this from time to time and the reasons are sound enough. Reassurance helps to ease worrying and as a result we feel a little more settled, even if this doesn’t always last. Rather than a solution reassurance tends to provide a short-term but uneasy fix. It is the uncertainty that lingers and this same uncertainty gradual (or rapidly) builds until we seek more reassurance.
We can’t make uncertainty go away. Life is full of uncertainties yet somehow we manage. The key issue for people with anxiety is learning how to tolerate uncertainty. The first step in making a change is to identify those checking and reassurance-seeking behaviors. Some may be more obvious than others. Maybe you buy lots of medical or self-help books, or you trawl the Internet? But you may need to think about others.
I’ll use the example of health anxiety to illustrate the point. People who are health anxious may regularly check their pulse and look for lumps, bumps and marks on their body. They may use forums, pay regular visits to the doctor, ask friends and family if they’ve noticed anything different and so on. In and amongst these activities there may be things that cause more distress than others, so these are worth working on.
When it comes down to it there are two questions to consider. First, what benefits do you actually gain from doing what you do, as often as you do? Secondly, what downsides are there from doing what you’re doing? Okay, we all know that monitoring health is a good idea, but having reviewed your answers is it just possible that you’re over-assessing? If you’re checking or seeking reassurance daily or more than once a day, then you are, if there is no medical reason for doing so. The more you check the worse your anxiety becomes so to reduce your distress it’s important to break out of the cycle.
You can do this by setting new goals. For example if you check your teeth six times a day an initial goal could be to reduce to four or three times. Make your goals small and achievable. If your first attempt doesn’t work reduce the goal to make it attainable. The same goes for reassurance and time spent researching illness on the Internet. If you’re diligent you will find that anxiety will reduce somewhat over time. You can also start replacing these old habits with new ones. Every goal you achieve you can reward yourself with a treat - along with the knowledge that you have set the goals and you have achieved them.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.