Why managing uncertainty is the key to mental health

When it comes to mental health, it is common to fall into the mistake of assuming that psychological disorders have fundamentally to do with how we experience emotions.

Although there is no doubt that the emotional is a very important element in understanding the human mind, it is not disconnected from the rest of the psychological processes; among them, those that allow us to create predictions about what will happen based on our knowledge of how the world works. Our rational side and the emotional side are not entirely separate, and this is clearly seen in how uncertainty affects us.

    How to deal with the lack of information?

    Even though we named our own species Homo sapiens, that does not mean that we are predestined to be wise people. On the contrary: we are born without knowing almost nothing, and if we do nothing to fix it, we remain in this state of total ignorance.

    It is by learning (deliberately or unconsciously) how we integrate knowledge into the way we behave and make decisions. However, no matter how quickly we learn, we never get to know everything; little by little we can afford to answer the questions we ask ourselves, but almost always those answers are associated with many more questions.

    This is why the way we think and interact with the environment is always linked to a tension between what we know and what we don’t know.

    A lot of research based on neuroimaging shows an interesting pattern: in situations of uncertainty, our brains tend to be more active. This fact corresponds to a theory which is reinforced: that the brain evolved as a collection of organs trying to minimize uncertainty allowing us to behave according to the most precise predictions possible.

    Not only can we not know everything, but the way we think has changed due to this constant lack of information. We are made to manage uncertainty rather than to accumulate knowledge.

      Anxiety about lack of answers

      Anxiety is another sign that our mind has the resources to deal with uncertainty. It can be unpleasant to be anxious, but if the ability to feel it is present in virtually all people (not to mention all mammals), it has something to do with it.

      This mechanism it predisposes us to pay more attention to our environment detect as early as possible the first signs that something is wrong or that if we do not hurry we will lose a valuable opportunity, and allows us to react quickly by starting our muscles.

      In other words, the psychological and biological mechanisms that cause us to be anxious exist because we are innately trying to predict what is going to happen, since we cannot know it at all.

      Therefore… Is anxiety an emotional phenomenon or related to the way we handle information? Perhaps, when we talk about it, it makes no sense to clearly differentiate these two concepts.

      However, not all ways of dealing with uncertainty and its emotional consequences are equally effective. While anxiety in itself is natural and shouldn’t be a problem, if given under certain circumstances it can lead us to have a very bad time, generating unnecessary suffering or even psychopathology (those we do. called anxiety disorders).

      In other situations, anxiety doesn’t cause us much pain, however instead of directing us to solve a problem, it blocks us, which keeps us from stopping thinking about something that is obsessing us and making a decision about what we need to do to move on. In many cases, the fear of failure plays an important role.

        The importance of short and long term vision

        If one thing is clear about the strategies that work when it comes to dealing with uncertainty, it’s that it’s important to follow an order, so that you don’t have to face a multitude of questions every time. time we wonder what to do. to improve our situation.

        That is: the key is to assume that not knowing a lot at once is not a bad thing, and that instead of obsessing over what we don’t know, we should have as a reference a sequence of actions that allow us to reduce uncertainty, focusing on one each time.

        It is not necessary to give a definitive answer to each of the questions., but strong and coherent enough to be able to allow us to focus our attention on other matters which are also close to our hearts and which we should not “let stand” indefinitely.

        This is why it is necessary to combine a short-term vision with a long-term vision. In the short term, we need to focus our attention on what we know we can do now to improve our quality of life in some way or another, but not give in to what only gives us momentary relief ( for example, distractions, eating without feeling hungry). truth, etc.) without allowing us to move forward towards our most ambitious goals.

        Many of these ways of dealing with uncertainty can be viewed as an investment, literally or metaphorically. Strive to study something that interests us, do a market study before launching our business, compare different health insurances before choosing one, take a close look at the area where we value the purchase of an apartment … are experiences which, rather than being stimulating, combine the acceptance that we cannot fully predict what will happen, on the one hand, and the idea that if we focus on certain issues that hold us at heart, that same day we can feel better about our future. , on the other hand.

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