Fear of the unknown

Worry and anticipation hang in the air, the fear of the unknown – you know a change has to be faced but you don’t know how to face it. You don’t have to face it alone.

We tend to live in repetitive and predictable patterns, which means that we can live without much thought for our daily routines, the repetition feels comfortable.

When the pattern changes it disrupts us, bringing stress and anxiety with it.

If change is forced upon you by the unpredictable actions of others you may never fully understand what drove their decisions.  When the change comes, the shock and the fear of the unknown may be overwhelming.  In time you will come to live with it.

fear of the unknown

When changes are forced upon you

Facing your fear of the unknown, or facing fears you did not ask for, it can be very unnerving to feel life lurching into the unknown.  It is unnerving to feel that you have lost the sense of predictability.  This might come via the shock of sudden events, a serious health diagnosis, a death, discovery of betrayal, or other traumatic experience.  Change, facing these unknown and unfamiliar experiences is hard.

Fear of the unknown changes our body chemistry

Stress and anxiety are triggered by change, as the hormones cortisol and noradrenaline are released into your system making the heart race, making you feel edgy and tense and nauseous. We go from easy familiar rhythms into the strange and unknown.

How do we come to terms with our fear of the unknown?

Unpredictable change often only makes sense when you look back at it.  At the time the unexpected events just sweep you up, it is all you can do to tread water as the rip tides pull you away from the beach of your familiar life.  Survival depends on adapting and reacting as best you can to the unknown forces.  It might take years to make sense of it.  This is why people write memoirs when they have had the time to gain perspective on the difficult changes that they lived through, Hilary Mantel’s memoir : Giving up the Ghost is a good example.

Some changes can also be good for us.  Stressful yes, but also enlivening as the change wakes us up a bit.  Breaking out of the predictable patterns makes us feel stressed and anxious though we may come to feel invigorated by it too.  Beyond our fear of the unknown we come alive again.  You may have been avoiding it for ages, it may suddenly have been thrust upon you, but when we decide to look into our fear of the unknown we may find or lives waking from the rut of predictability.

Strange as it may be, some changes are adjusted to surprisingly simply.  When change is forced upon us we often find that we are surprisingly good at adapting.  We may also find that the process of going through the unknown, with the stress and shock that is involved, to adapting to our new lives is a cycle that energises and reinvigorates us.  We may put change off because we fear the unknown but find our lives in better shape for having gone through it.  This may be why we are drawn to creative people who continually find ways to invent and produce new work.

In mythology the hero must journey into the unknown.  Often it is the journey that the hero tries to put off and avoid which provides the route to rebirth renewal and transformation.  Joseph Campbell wrote brilliantly about this.

hero journey

We avoid our fears but facing them empowers us

In its own way what is sometimes referred to as a mid-life crisis can be thought of as a response to the fear of the unknown of how the second part of life will turn out. What starts as a sense of confusion often presents us with a need to travel through unknown and unfamiliar experience.  We have reached a point in our lives at which change must happen, the fear of the unknown must be faced.  As we go through the fear of the unknown we face our fears and find that actually doing so empowers us.  Pursuing our vulnerability, understanding and accepting the truth about ourselves and our lives renews us.

When we find a way to embrace and accept what fate has presented us with, we go further than we think, do better than we think.  We just need to find the confidence to take the first step.

My work at Counselling Buckinghamshire has involved a good deal of helping people to face their fear of the unknown.  Contact me for a free telephone consultation to see how I might be able to help.