Description: Suppose you were told that a friend of yours was anxious, just generally anxious. In preparing to talk with them about how they are doing you are thinking a bit about the sorts of questions you might ask them in order to better understand their situation and their mental state. What are you anxious about is certainly a candidate question but maybe that is diving in too deep too early. How about, what are you uncertain about? Think about how uncertainty may play around your friend’s anxiety and then read through the article linked below to see what a clinical psychologist who has studied and counseled people struggling with anxiety to see his perspective.
Source: Living With Uncertainty During Covid-19: Low tolerance of uncertainty will heighten your anxiety about the pandemic, David A. Clark, The Runaway Mind, Psychology Today.
Date: March 29, 2020
It is not simply the case that anxiety and uncertainty are correlated. The linked article’s author talks about how some people have a low uncertainty tolerance. I think this is a good way to notice how intertwined anxiety and uncertainty are. However, it is also important to consider both developmental and historical variation in anxiety and uncertainty as well. Elsewhere and prior to the arrival of Covid-19, there was considerable concern about the levels of anxiety (and depression) among emerging adults (those born since 1984). Efforts to link this jump in anxiety to smart phones or overprotective parenting have only been marginally successful, not accounting for much of the population anxiety variance. But what about uncertainty? Emerging adults are entering a developmental moment in which they are expected (and expect) to make life shaping decisions about what they will do, what they will believe, and who they will be or become. Pre Covid-19, the possible worlds they could discern as they prepared to set and navigate their life-courses were not just uncertain in the “everybody feels that way at this developmental point” sort of way but they are more uncertain, unclear, and ill defined than they have been for many generations. Now, today’s generation of emerging adults need the world of Covid-19 about as much as they need a pair of badly smudged wrongly prescribed glasses through which to see how to place their steps as they try to move forward. The uncertainty we are all experiencing today as we try to peer into and plot navigational courses towards our possible futures can help us all to see how tightly anxiety and uncertainty are entwinned. The steps offered in the linked article for strengthening our tolerances for uncertainty are timely and worth considering. However, we also can and should take advantage of this historical moment of uncertainty as an opportunity to better understand the anxiety levels of emerging adults as they entered developmental moments of future direction and navigation planning prior to Covid-19. As well, we should save some of our own anti-anxiety and uncertainty thoughts and coping efforts to consider what the addition of Covid-19 into the developmental mix means for our current and soon to be emerging adults. They do, or will, need our understanding and support.
Questions for Discussion:
- How are anxiety and uncertainty related?
- Given the above, what might you predict about the incidence of problematic perfectionism among high school students and emerging adults?
- What sorts of supports and understanding might benefit emerging adults in the weeks and months to come?
References (Read Further):
Hirsh, J. B., Mar, R. A., & Peterson, J. B. (2012). Psychological entropy: A framework for understanding uncertainty-related anxiety. Psychological review, 119(2), 304. Link
Carleton, R. N., Mulvogue, M. K., Thibodeau, M. A., McCabe, R. E., Antony, M. M., & Asmundson, G. J. (2012). Increasingly certain about uncertainty: Intolerance of uncertainty across anxiety and depression. Journal of anxiety disorders, 26(3), 468-479. Link
Grupe, D. W., & Nitschke, J. B. (2013). Uncertainty and anticipation in anxiety: an integrated neurobiological and psychological perspective. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14(7), 488-501. Link
Hirsh, J. B., & Kang, S. K. (2016). Mechanisms of identity conflict: Uncertainty, anxiety, and the behavioral inhibition system. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 20(3), 223-244. Link
Carleton, R. N. (2012). The intolerance of uncertainty construct in the context of anxiety disorders: Theoretical and practical perspectives. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 12(8), 937-947. Link