Developing tolerance for uncertainty

I often work with clients who struggle with intolerance of uncertainty. This is a common issue that can manifest in a variety of ways, such as anxiety, panic attacks, reassurance seeking, avoidance behaviours, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.


Intolerance of uncertainty is essentially a fear of the unknown, a strong discomfort with ambiguity and a tendency to try to control the outcome of situations. It’s a normal human response to want to feel in control and have a sense of predictability, but when this desire becomes excessive and interferes with daily functioning, it can be problematic.

Why do we struggle with intolerance of uncertainty? 

In my experience, people who struggle with intolerance of uncertainty often have a difficult time dealing with change or unpredictability. They may feel overwhelmed by the possibility of negative outcomes or catastrophise situations, leading to increased anxiety and stress.

This fear can lead to avoidance behaviours, where individuals try to stay within their comfort zone and avoid situations that may trigger their anxiety or uncertainty. They may also engage in compulsive behaviours, such as checking and re-checking, in an attempt to alleviate their anxiety and regain a sense of control.

It can be helpful to see intolerance of uncertainty like an allergy, if you are allergic to pollen for example, when you are exposed to even a small amount of it, your body reacts strongly by sneezing, coughing, your eyes water up and get red too. When people who are intolerant of uncertainty are exposed to a little bit of uncertainty, they also have a strong reaction: they worry excessively and do everything they can think of to get away from, avoid, or eliminate the uncertainty.

How to overcome intolerance of uncertainty

As a therapist I focus a lot on our somatic experience, therefore I believe that the mind and body are intricately connected and that we need to address both in order to help individuals overcome intolerance of uncertainty. This means helping people to become more aware of their physical sensations and emotional responses, and teaching them how to regulate their nervous system.

One technique that I often use in my work is mindfulness. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment, without judgment or attachment. By practising mindfulness, you can learn to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and develop a greater sense of acceptance, curiosity and non-judgment towards them.

Another technique that I use is body awareness. This involves tuning into the physical sensations of the body, such as tension or discomfort, and using techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to release the physical tension. By learning to regulate your physical responses, you can begin to feel more in control and less overwhelmed by your anxiety.

I also work with individuals to help them develop more adaptive coping strategies. This can involve identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, as well as developing a more flexible and realistic mindset. We work on developing a sense of curiosity and openness to new experiences, rather than avoiding them out of fear of the unknown.

Ultimately, the goal of therapy is to help people develop a greater sense of resilience and flexibility in the face of uncertainty. By learning to tolerate ambiguity and developing adaptive coping strategies, you can begin to feel more empowered and in control of your life.

I believe that everyone has the capacity to overcome intolerance of uncertainty. By working together, we can help you to develop the skills and tools that you need to navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and confidence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London, EC2A
Written by Laura Prendiville, MSC, MCCP.
London, EC2A

I'm an accredited Contemporary Psychotherapist. I use creative and dynamic approaches to working with trauma, bereavement, anxiety and depression.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Somatic therapy

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals