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Predicting the Unpredictable

People who suffer from anxiety tend to worry a lot, especially those who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is a common type of anxiety involving excessive worry on an almost daily basis. It is generally accompanied by various physical symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, and tension. Those with GAD often seem to believe that worrying can protect them from harm–as though their worry will help them see and avoid any number of potential calamities that may lie ahead.

Unfortunately, worry has a terrible cost/benefit ratio. In other words, worry costs a lot in terms of distress, tension, problems with concentration, disrupted sleep, and so on. But rarely have I known anyone who has successfully avoided much of anything from their incessant worrying. In fact, I’d venture to guess that over 95% of the things I’ve worried about over the years never happened. Furthermore, when occasionally one of my worries has come true, rarely has it felt as bad as I feared it would. And I’d have to say that I’ve been completely unable to predict the vast majority of negative events that have actually occurred in my life.

Let’s face it; humans are not particularly good prognosticators. It’s impossible to predict what will happen in life–whether good or bad. In our book Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Edition) my wife, Laura Smith, Ph.D. and myself listed a few highly unusual, unpredictable events just to illustrate this point (that life has risks and no one can predict them reliably). Please note that we are not making fun of tragic, horrific events, but we hope you can see what we mean. Here’s a few of the items from our list:

  • A forked bolt of lightning killed all eleven members of an African soccer team.
  • A worker at a chocolate factory died after he fell into a large tank of melting chocolate and was knocked out by one of the mixing paddles.
  • A Houston surgeon was decapitated by an elevator door that closed on his head.
  • Nine people died in London when a huge vat of beer burst and released over a million liters of beer. A chain reaction began which caused other surrounding vats to burst and beer flooded the streets, drowning nine folks in its path. The event became known as the London Beer Flood of 1814.
  • The Boston Molasses Tragedy of 1919 was even worse. Twenty people were killed and about 150 were injured when 1.3 million gallons of molasses were released by a burst storage tank. A wall of molasses up to 15-20 feet high wiped our homes and drowned people in the goo. Clean up of the mess took many months.

If you worry too much, try to realize that life is unpredictable. Worrying costs you a lot and probably will never save you from much of anything significant. The more you can accept the idea that life has risks and can’t be predicted, the less anxiety will dominate your life.

Predicting the Unpredictable

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2010). Predicting the Unpredictable. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Jul 2010
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