Intolerance of uncertainty is a risk factor for PTSD

By |2019-10-31T22:12:23+10:00October 31st, 2019|

Life is full of unknowns and surprises. Our ability to deal with this uncertainty
varies greatly between individuals. Some may see uncertainty as exciting and
novel whereas others see it as threatening and overwhelming. Recent research is
telling us that our ability to tolerate uncertainty may be associated with a risk of
developing PTSD as well as the severity of symptoms.

Intolerance of Uncertainty (or IU) is defined as ‘an individual’s dispositional
incapacity to endure the aversive response triggered by the perceived absence of
salient, key, or sufficient information, and sustained by the associated perception
of uncertainty”.

Previous research has demonstrated relationships between IU and a number of
mental health conditions, including generalized anxiety, depression, hoarding,
social anxiety and panic disorder.

Only recently has research examined the relationship between IU and PTSD. A
2019 study of veterans found that IU was associated with an increase in both
avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms. Further, an earlier study found that
individual’s high on IU were at greater risk of developing PTSD after exposure to
a trauma.

The good news is that treatments for PTSD such as Cognitive Processing Therapy
(CPT) target beliefs that are associated with IU. Examples of such beliefs could be
“I can’t be in my own, in case something bad happens”; “I can’t be safe unless I
know the outcome”. Challenging these beliefs and developing alternative, more
helpful beliefs can lead to less distress and symptom severity.

By Tamara

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