Anxiety Disorders and Fear of the Unknown
One of the most difficult aspects of anxiety disorders is the fear of uncertainty, because uncertainty is everywhere. There are so many unknowns, especially in the contemporary world we live in- where so many surprising events constantly bombard us, whether it’s weather-related challenges, terrorism, job insecurity, unstable families and marriages, betrayals, etc. It seems that wherever we look, there’s something unexpected hitting us from all sides. So many things we can’t control or even brace ourselves for ahead of time!
So, becoming a person who copes well with uncertainty is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves to adapt well to our uncertain times and manage the anxieties and fears that go along with this.
A couple of internal beliefs can really affect this ability to cope with uncertainty. Firstly, believing in our own sense of self-efficacy is huge. Experiences that build a sense of mastery- challenges that we overcome, reminding ourselves of times when we have been resilient, and taking small steps to reach attainable goals, all remind us of our ability to cope. Seeking out challenges that are healthy and can realistically be overcome is a good way to increase a sense of mastery and your own sense of trust in your ability to cope no matter what comes your way. Trust in others to help us out if we need them is also extremely important for fostering a sense of security, and the belief that even if we don’t know what’s going to happen, whatever comes our way, there are caring people who will be there to help us through. The importance of healthy attachments cannot be overstated when it comes to managing anxiety about uncertainty.
Unconscious guilt about thoughts, feelings, or desires often play a role as well, not so much regarding our ability to cope with uncertainty- but in the level of anxiety we feel about things that can go wrong. There is often an unconscious sense of fear and foreboding that can be linked to a sense of punishment or disaster that is believed to follow feelings of excitement, too much pleasure, or aggressive impulses.
Asking yourself the question, “Is there something I wish for, desire, or feel that I’m afraid to say out loud…or that I’m trying to convince myself I don’t really feel…or that makes me anxious just to think about?” might shed light on some of the unconscious feelings that may be fueling your anxiety. Even if we’re not aware of it, it’s very common to feel guilty for things like: being angry with people we love, resenting people who need us (especially in parents of young children who wish they could have a break from parenting!), mixed feelings about a pregnancy, or starting to feel pleasure in a good situation after a history of negative experiences or abusive relationships.
Anxiety about making decisions often connects to this as well. The feeling may be that if only you could know for sure how things will turn out, then you’ll avoid the risk involved in making a choice. If people have undermined your autonomy in the past, or have questioned your perceptions or decisions, you may second guess yourself when faced with the possibility of making your own choices, acting on your own desires, and taking the risk of a negative outcome that you don’t have control over by expressing your independence.
Learning to take healthy risks, to act on your desires in a healthy way, and to let yourself enjoy your life even with all of the uncertainty that surrounds us is not something beyond your reach….but understanding your relationship to uncertainty and your anxiety is often the first step on that journey.