Research has shown that there are several personality characteristics or traits which are linked to anxiety disorders such as General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Some of these include indecisiveness, perfectionism, need for predictability and order, and being averse to risks.
One particular trait which is linked to anxiety is known as intolerance of uncertainty (IU). This refers to an individual’s dislike of the unknown and uncertainty in relation to the future. This characteristic is strongly linked to levels of worry as the less comfortable you are with uncertainty, the stronger your fear reaction will be when you are faced with it. On top of this, a dislike of being uncertain may cause high levels of indecision and inhibition, especially in social situations where not being sure of how people will react is unavoidable.
Understanding IU is critical to anxiety treatment. Past research has shown that IU is strongly linked to GAD, and reducing fear of uncertainty using CBT has found to be a great way of reducing worry. But is IU related to social anxiety too? If so, how does it differ from IU in GAD? The current study aims to find out.
A sample of 248 participants who suffered from either GAD, SAD, or both were evaluated for their levels of IU. It was found that levels of IU were not significantly different in any of the three categories, suggesting that being intolerant of uncertainty was a strong predictor of social anxiety as well as general anxiety.
There were, however, some differences in the symptoms of IU which were found in those with SAD and those with GAD. Uncertainty that was perceived as unfair was more strongly related to levels of worry but did not have a strong affect on behaviour. Uncertainty about yourself or about what action you are supposed to take in a situation was more linked to SAD.
This study has interesting implication for social anxiety treatment and anxiety treatment in general. Since IU is such a key component of both GAD and SAD, and since the two disorders are often experienced together, future treatment may be more effective if it looks beyond the diagnosis and aims to treat IU directly. Teaching people to be more accepting of uncertainty and not to interpret it so badly would certainly help them feel less worry about the future. Likewise reducing levels of IU could help people overcome social anxiety by letting them feel more comfortable acting in social situations even if they do not know exactly what will happen.
This study shows that IU is an important underlying variable in both GAD and SAD. Intolerance of uncertainty manifests in slightly different ways in the two disorders but plays an important part in developing and maintaining both. In learning how to overcome social anxiety future research needs to identify how these different aspects of IU can be related to the treatment process.
If high levels of anxiety are affecting your life or you want to find out more about social anxiety treatment, please get in touch.