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Your mental health: Get comfortable with uncertainty

May 22nd, 2022 11:50 AM

By Southern Star Team

Your mental health: Get comfortable with uncertainty Image
You need to be able to live with uncertainty, because the world is an uncertain place. Anxious people tend to be very intolerant of uncertainty, which leads to over-planning.

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By Linda Hamilton, Cognitive behavioural therapist

Last week, I suggested that self-criticism, avoidance, routine worrying, not exercising, and routinely discounting the positives in one’s life are great ways of being unhappy. Here are a few more tips on how to be as unhappy as possible.


Nervous about a social event? If you really insist on going (unhappiness experts recommend you don’t, because avoidance is such a good unhappiness strategy, but anyway), then make sure to ruminate about it afterwards, questioning and agonising over everything you said or did.

Made a mistake at work? Torture yourself by ruminating about it for hours on end.

Feel angry because someone did you wrong? Don’t let it go – ruminate about it.

Feel down over something that happened years ago? Same advice – ruminate about it and make sure to do so regularly.

Like worry, people often view rumination as a form of problem-solving, but it’s not. It maintains and exacerbates multiple emotional problems. For example, rumination is at the core of depression. It’s at the core of multiple anxiety disorders. It’s at the very heart of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), keeping people trapped in an endless, agonising loop. It’s strongly linked to poor anger management and aggression, as well as binge eating, binge drinking, and self-harm.

It’s hard to be happy if you’re ruminating all the time. As unhappiness strategies go, this one is right up there.

Don’t tolerate uncertainty

Your daughter is five minutes late and you think, maybe something terrible has happened? Ring her, immediately.

You have a meeting with your boss tomorrow. How will it go? Make sure to think about it as much as possible in the meantime, preferably entertaining dire scenarios.

You’re rushing and about to send an email when you think, maybe there are typos in it? Make sure to check it again before you send it.

You see someone you know across the road and wave, but she doesn’t wave back. Did she deliberately ignore you? Or maybe she didn’t see you? Pick one of these options – whatever you do, don’t say something like, “Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, I can’t be sure”. Don’t tolerate the uncertainty – pick a side.

You need to be able to live with uncertainty, because the world is an uncertain place. Little wonder, then, that intolerance of uncertainty is strongly linked to psychological problems.

Anxious people, particularly chronic worriers, tend to be especially intolerant of uncertainty. This results in over-planning, over-preparation, excessive list-making, reassurance-seeking, double-checking, not delegating tasks (‘maybe they won’t do it right’), amongst others.

Is this a recipe for happiness? Of course not. Over-controlled behaviours drive stress and leave you feeling exposed and threatened when something unexpected happens.

Label people

You failed a test? What a loser. Disagree with someone’s political views? She’s a selfish idiot. An office colleague was brusque to you at work? Jerk.

In reality, maybe that office colleague was in a hurry; maybe they were stressed out; maybe they just have a direct communication style; or maybe they’re human like you and me, with good points and bad points. Either way, you shouldn’t label in this manner. Defining yourself or others on the basis of a single event or behaviour is simplistic and unhelpful.

Oh wait, I forgot, this article is about unhappiness tips. Sorry, keep labelling, and ignore what I just said – I’m such an idiot.

Stinking thinking

I’m nearly out of space and there are so many great unhappiness tips I haven’t got to yet. OK, here are a few quick cognitive distortions, examples of “stinking thinking” that drive difficult feelings and unhelpful behaviours.

Embrace black-and-white thinking – don’t be nuanced, don’t look for the shades of grey, get into the habit of telling yourself that everything is either fantastic or terrible.

Practice mind-reading – you don’t actually know what is going through other people’s minds but never mind that, tell yourself that you know others are thinking negative and critical things about you.

Had a bad day or week or month? Don’t listen to people who say things will get better or that this will pass, tell yourself things will never change.

Use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ as often as you can.

Linda Hamilton is a Kinsale-based cognitive behavioural therapist.

If you would like to get in touch with her, call 086-3300807

For more information, go to

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