Strategy 1: Increase your tolerance for uncertainty

Research shows that most people who worry excessively have difficulty tolerating uncertainty. That is, whenever they are not 100% sure of something, even a minor matter like whether there will be enough parking at the doctor’s office, they are likely to worry about it.

But almost everything in life is uncertain because no one can predict the future. If a lot of your worries are caused by uncertainty, then the best way to deal with it is to get more comfortable with not knowing sometimes. The other option – trying to have 100% certainty – is what you are trying to accomplish when you worry. But you already know that this tactic is not very successful. If it were, you wouldn’t have a problem with worrying!

So how do you become comfortable with uncertainty? The best way is by changing your behaviour to act “as if” you are comfortable with it.

Some ways to build tolerance for uncertainty include:

  • Going about your day as usual, even if you are having some mildly uncomfortable sensations in your body that you are worried about.
  • Resisting the urge to read extensively about how to have a “perfect” birth experience, and instead taking it as it comes.
  • Asking your partner to choose a crib.
  • Asking your maternity care provider questions you have about pregnancy only once:
    • Ask yourself the following questions, and only ask your care provider questions if one of the answers is “yes”: 1) Do I have new information for my provider? 2) Am I likely to get newinformation from my provider?
  • Not asking your partner, family, or friends to repeatedly reassure you that the baby will be okay.
  • Not using a heartbeat monitor to check your baby’s heartbeat whenever you are anxious.
  • Avoiding going on the Internet to do long, involved searches on pregnancy issues.
  • Not reading much more than what your care provider has recommended you to read about pregnancy and childcare.

For more information, see How to Tolerate Uncertainty.

Strategy 2: For worries about current problems, solve what you can

You have direct control over some situations. For example, you can budget to manage your finances or decide which stroller to get. The best way to deal with current worries is to focus on what you can do to help solve the problem you are worrying about.

Many worriers think they are problem solving when they worry. In fact, the opposite is usually true. When you worry, you are going over a problem in your head. But problem solving involves action, not rumination. It involves getting out of your head and actually doing something about it. Worriers often get so anxious that they avoid actually solving the problem, or they procrastinate.

Taking action to solve a problem will likely make you feel less anxious. For every problem you solve, you have one less thing to worry about.

Learn more about effective problem solving with the Anxiety Canada resource, How to solve daily life problems.

Strategy 3: For worries about hypothetical situations, write a worry script

Unlike solving current problems, worries about hypothetical situations cannot always be dealt with using action in the moment. For example, actions today cannot take away worries about your baby contracting an illness later on in life. Some things are simply out of your control. For hypothetical worries, the best technique to face your fears is to write a worry script.

A worry script is different from simply writing out your worries. Your aim is to write out what you are worried about as if it is really happening and to evoke an emotional response. You will write about your worry and what you are afraid will happen. For example, if you are afraid of developing a childbirth emergency that ends up in a C-section, you might write in your worry script about being afraid of something going wrong for the baby during the birth and what you fear might happen, such as being rushed into surgery, complications for the baby, and having difficulty recovering.

A worry script helps you experience the negative emotions associated with your fears and worries, rather than avoid them. Although this will feel uncomfortable at first, research shows that facing your fears in this way helps your anxiety and worries go down over time. A worry script also helps you imagine what your feared outcome would actually look like, rather than thinking about it in “fuzzy” or imprecise ways.

For more information, see How to Write a Worry Script (PDF).