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The Personality Trait That Fuels Anxiety

(Source: theatlantic.com)

People high in IU are more likely to compare themselves to others, research shows—another approach tactic. It stands to reason. If you’re not sure how successful you are, or how good your relationship is, you might gain clarity by figuring out how you’re doing relative to others.

Or, if you’re in avoidance mode, you might just ask someone else to tell you the answer. This is a large part of the appeal of advice columns.

“I’ve thought about this so many times,” Yoffe says. “Why would you reach out by email to a total stranger? … There’s something about the form. You’ve got to shove it into a paragraph, and I’m answering in a paragraph. We’re stripping away the complexities, we’re boiling it down. The form requires you to make it as clear as possible so I can give as clear an answer as possible.”

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To a degree, almost everyone employs these strategies sometimes. “We all have crutches,” Dugas says. But if someone is “allergic to uncertainty,” as some GAD patients are, they might, for example, become suspicious of their partner much more easily. They might see threats where there are none. “You might ask your spouse four times a day if they still love you, just in case they changed their mind,” Dugas says. “That would be a certainty-seeking behavior.” And a detrimental one.

On the flip side, Dugas says, avoidance taken too far could manifest itself in something like turning down a promotion at work, because you aren’t sure what the new job will be like, and you know you can do the one you have now. Grupe points out that avoiding unpredictable situations might rob people of opportunities to disprove their own worries. “With something like a party, you think, ‘I could be embarrassed, people might look at me,’ these kinds of worries. If you actually went to that party, you might have disconfirmed these fears, and reduced your anxiety,” he says.

If an aversion to uncertainty starts to negatively affect someone’s life like this, it can help to actively practice a third strategy: just living with it.

Dugas and his colleagues have developed a type of cognitive behavioral therapy based on this concept that has proved to be very effective for patients with GAD. Some people are more prone to the approach strategy, some to avoidance, some are a bit of both in different situations. And individuals also differ on what types of uncertainty bother them most. For a businesswoman who can’t stop checking the stock market, Dugas says he might have her start checking just once a day, then every other day, and so on. For parents who worry over the uncertainty of their kids’ grades, he’d have them slowly back off double-checking homework.

“The goal is always the same,” Dugas says. “To get them to experience uncertainty and learn “this isn’t fun, but I can tolerate this.”

Yoffe also advises people to accept life’s uncertainties sometimes. She recalls a recent Dear Prudie letter from a woman who didn’t meet her husband’s parents until shortly before they were married, and realized upon seeing them that they looked nothing like her husband. He did, however, resemble his maternal aunt and her husband.

More Info: theatlantic.com

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