Is the fear of the unknown stealing your happiness and vital energy? One of life’s greatest ironies is the suffering we experience without the problem we worried and stressed about ever showing up.
Sound familiar? And even when the challenge does arise as we feared, all the anxiety and worrying we did beforehand often robs us of the strength we could’ve used to deal with it healthily.
Sometimes these fears and anxieties are extreme, far-reaching, and chronic. In that case, they can lead to phobias such as xenophobia (fear of the unknown). Even so, none of us are exempt from the anxiety of the unknown. We all can relate to the struggle to an extent and battle it to a greater or lesser degree throughout life. The pandemic certainly has brought this to light all the more.
Some have said, “the fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all.” That may be close to the truth. We can at least say that being scared of the unknown is a foundational fear. Isn’t that the hidden “stinger” of uncertainty—something unpleasant or downright tragic could be right around the corner? As you work through these challenges, here are some thoughts on times you’re afraid of what you don’t know.
Remember Most Things You Worry About Won’t Happen
As you work through fear of the unknown anxiety, first, keep in mind that most of the things we stress about don’t take place. How many times have you worried over an upcoming event such as an exam, presentation, or flight only to realize it didn’t end up nearly as bad as you thought it would be?
Sure, there are times we worry something will go wrong, and it does. And, ironically, those worries can sabotage the desired outcome because we’re no longer at our best. Still, keep in mind that most fears of the unknown don’t happen as we fear they will. This is a suitable reassurance mechanism to use in your internal dialogue when various fears come up and disrupt your mental wellness.
Learn the Difference Between Problem Solving and Worrying
Having said that, we shouldn’t take all our fears at face value, we also need to admit that ignoring them all would be foolish too. It would be equally unwise to do nothing about certain fears. The body and mind’s built-in mechanism to warn us of danger is there for a reason. We just have to learn to master it.
It’s easy to justify our ruminating thoughts on the unknowns as “problem-solving.” There certainly is some merit to that. It’s wise to foresee potential problems and address them before they happen or become a big deal.
On the one hand, we can all heartily agree that the fear of the unknown can be healthy anxiety. It’s what makes parents extra vigilant when their toddler is close to a busy street or deep water, for instance. As a parent, you’re on high alert and you should be. It’s the same reason you lock your car, keep a fire extinguisher at your home, or practice financial planning.
We want things to go well for us, our families, and those around us. So, we work hard to ensure that happens. So, let’s fully recognize this built-in defense mechanism is a very good thing, so far as it serves us well.
However, the fear of the unknown can quickly become excessive. When this happens, the tendency is to worry, stress and become anxious. Of course, problem-solving is good. But when you’re no longer doing that and incessantly worrying, you’re only breaking down your mental wellness at that point. If you’ve been anxious and worrying about a potential concern and it takes place as you feared, all that anxiety will only make it more challenging to handle.
In light of this, ask yourself a question to see if you are on the right track:
“If my fears come true, will what I’m doing make it easier to deal with the challenge or harder?”
If you answer “easier,” that probably means you’re problem-solving, which is healthy. If your answer is “harder,” you’re probably worrying. At the same time, remember that it’s easy to fool ourselves. Sometimes we justify our unhealthy worry as good because we think it’s “solving the problem” when it only worsens matters!
In His Psychology Today article entitled Why You Hate Uncertainty and How to Cope, Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D. quotes the following from Eckhart Tolle, which is fitting in this case:
“If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.”
Refusal to embrace uncertainty can lead to a mental health diagnosis (such as a phobia of the unknown) or make an existing one far worse. I know it can seem like not accepting certainty can improve your life, but that is far from the truth. It actually does just the opposite, enslaving you to deep-seated anxiety.
Accepting that life is uncertain is vital. As hard as it may be for some to believe, doing so is empowering. Instead of limping through life and unraveling at the thought of not knowing what will happen, you develop inner peace and strength to deal with what happens, whether good or bad. And because tons of vital energy isn’t stolen from you through worry, you’re better able to cope with these unknowns.
Remember that much of what is unknown now will be good or even great later! If we reflected on this fact more, we’d all be far healthier people. Getting to the point of releasing fear and anxiety is a journey that shouldn’t be walked alone. It usually takes time and interaction with others when overcoming fear of the unknown. But when you finally get there, you’ll be amazed by how free you feel.
If you’re struggling with too much stress lately, please reach out to the OC Relationship Center. We are here for all your counseling needs. Scheduling an appointment with us it is always quick and confidential.