As I indicated in a previous blog post, there is no such thing as absolute certainty,
There are only probabilities that something will or will not happen. For many people this is not a problem because a very high probability is enough to enable them to behave in ways that fulfill their needs and desires. However, for people with severe anxiety, especially health anxiety, a high probability that a feared event will not happen is not sufficient to relieve their anxiety. These people need a 100% guarantee.The probability of a domestic commercial plane crashing is one in many millions. Similarly, the probability of a bodily sensation being a malignant tumor is extremely low. In both cases people with severe anxiety need a guarantee that there is no chance of an adverse outcome. Focusing on actual, factual probabilities changes the narrative from irrational fear to logical reasoning and therefore, reduces worrying.

In spite of our attempts to avoid adversity and control our own reality, accidents happen, people get sick, unexpected events occur, and natural environmental incidents can cause havoc in our lives. In response to this reality some people adopt an attitude that accepts uncertainty as a fact of life. These people may assign responsibility for outcomes to chance, luck, some spiritual being, or other factors outside their control. The benefit of this attitude is that it minimizes or eliminates worrying about what can happen and protects the individual against self-blame if something undesirable occurs. The downside is that it sometimes leads people to deny personal responsibility for what happens to them, and to avoid making changes in their lives that would improve their health and well being.

As often happens, people develop bad habits that affect their lives adversely. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and drug use, and relationships that cause more stress than comfort are examples of behaviors that are destructive to health. Good health, as well as anxiety reduction, can be achieved by people changing their behaviors or adopting new ones .These behavioral changes can sometimes lead to dramatic improvements in health and well being, and increase the probability of avoiding serious illness as well as increased longevity.

For people with health anxiety, thinking about the actual statistical probability of having a serious illness has the effect of reducing the anxiety, worrying, checking one’s body for symptoms and asking for reassurance that they don’t have symptoms of the disease they are afraid of. A more constructive approach would be to behave in ways that actually increase the probability of avoiding the illness that a person is afraid of. In other words, thinking of the actual statistical probability of having a disease –rather than how terrible it would be – does decrease the anxiety and the strong emotions associated with that disease. However, changing one’s health-related behavior actually decreases the probability that the disease will occur. It is better to do something that will decrease risk, rather than spend one’s time worrying about getting the disease one is afraid of.

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