Humans are designed to fear the unknown. Fear of the unknown is having fearful or anxious feelings regarding something that one has no information about or uncertain circumstances. Some of us fear the unknown more than others. While fearing the unknown can cause unpleasant feelings such as anxiety and distress; it is important to remember that the possibility of great achievements and positive outcomes may lie on the other side of uncertainty.
Understanding and Overcoming Fear of the Unknown
It can be helpful to recognize how fear of the unknown shows up for us as well as the physical effects we can feel in the body. The following lists are not exhaustive but can help us understand our feelings.
Fear of the unknown can show up in multiple ways, such as:
- uncertain situations such as a new job or school
- the fate of the world
- what lies ahead in the future
- going to new places and/or meeting new people
- life changes such as a relationship change, graduating, etc.
The effects of fear of the unknown in the body are:
- rapid heartbeat
- quickened, shallow breathing
- feelings of weakness
- muscle tension
- a rise in blood sugar levels
The good news is that there are multiple ways to overcome the fear of the unknown. Research and education are some of the best ways to become informed and gain insight into the situation. Planning for possible outcomes can help ease the mind. Reframing negative thoughts is a great way to cope with the effects.
Reframing is a cognitive behavioral technique. An example would be having the thought, “What if I fail at this?” and reframing this to something such as “What if things go well and I end up enjoying it?” Another way to overcome the fear of the unknown is to seek balance and comfort in other aspects of the scenario. This could be a consistent home and work routine in a rapidly changing world, a friendly face in the audience of a public speaking event, or wearing a favorite shirt on the first day of a new job.
Why We’re So Terrified of the Unknown
There are many reasons why humans are afraid of the unknown. A lack of predictability in a situation can cause anxiety and fear. Not knowing what to be prepared for can be intimidating. The saying goes, “In life, you can only predict that you cannot predict anything.” Prepare as a person might, humans cannot control things out of their control. The environment in which a person grows up can affect the intensity of fear of the unknown.
Environment influences confidence and identity. Lastly, genetics can play a role in the level of fear humans have of the unknown. It is extremely common to fear the unknown and also important to remember good outcomes can come from new experiences and education is key to expanding understanding.
How to Deal With Anxiety of the Unknown
Anxiety is often defined as fretting about the future and fear of the unknown. It can affect one’s mood. Many people struggle with cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that feel real but are not. Examples are black-or-white thinking, fortune-telling, catastrophizing, and all-or-nothing thinking. As mentioned previously, cognitive reframing can help change one’s point of view on a situation. Mindfulness is another way to manage anxiety-provoking situations.
Mindfulness can be meditation, breathing exercises, or grounding techniques that help one stay in the present moment. Therapy helps with gaining clarity on situations and processing feelings. If you or anyone you know has questions about this article or is seeking help our team at Clarity is available to listen and assist.
Written by: Jordan Johnson, LSW
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.