Fear of the future is a real phobia called chronophobia. In some cases, feeling anxious about the road ahead or a little nervous about a new adventure isn’t anything to be concerned about!
However, this sort of anxiety can breed and grow and develop into a real fear that can darken your days and damage your relationships.
There is also another condition called anticipatory anxiety, which is not so much a full-blown phobia as a creeping fear, which, if left unaddressed, can become something much worse.
We all need an emotional resilience toolkit to turn to when times get tough, and here we’ll explore the five most effective ways to cope with a fear of the future.
What Is Fear of the Future and Why Do I Have It?
As I’ve mentioned, there are two clinically defined conditions that mean having fearful thoughts and physical symptoms when thinking about things that haven’t yet happened.
- Chronophobia is a phobia that manifests as extreme fear, often arising from existing anxiety disorders, and can cause obsessive and debilitating behavior.
- Anticipatory anxiety means being nervous about future events where the outcome is unknown and can cause mental health issues, problems eating, sleep disorders, and muscle tension.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re considering anxiety. Any actual phobia will undoubtedly require professional counseling and support to work through and establish effective coping mechanisms.
If your fear of the future is reaching an extreme and impacting your day to day life or doesn’t go away when you try a strategy to alleviate the stress, I would strongly recommend seeking help from a therapist and taking it from there.
The ‘why’ is more of a challenge to pin down than the ‘what’ – because fearfulness can arise from any number of scenarios, including past experiences, trauma, low self-esteem, general anxiousness, or a specific event.
However, it’s worth clarifying that being nervous about the unknown is not always negative!
Where you can channel those nerves into excitement, anticipation, drive, enthusiasm, commitment, or dedication, it might just fuel your conviction to achieve the goals you aspire to.
Should that not be the case, and a fear of the future is getting you down, here are our top five ways to overcome your feelings of dread and be more present in the here and now, which you have a much better chance of being able to control.
1. Identify the worst-case scenario.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking! I am dreading tomorrow, next week, or next year, have irrational anxiety that my life will end in disaster, and you’re asking me to visualize the worst thing that could happen!
Yes, I am. Because the key word there is ‘irrational.’ We’re all a little irrational from time to time (it’s a side effect of the human condition!). Nearly always, our minds can conjure up a terrifying outcome that isn’t realistically going to happen.
Say you’re worried that you will fail an exam. What will happen if you do? Can you retake the course? Could you re-sit the exam? Is there an equivalency you could choose? Can you get extra tutoring before the exam date?
When you work out how bad it might get, you empower yourself to take proactive steps to either avoid that worst-case scenario or have an action plan if your fears are realized.
2. Channel your stress.
Being anxious isn’t fun. It makes us cranky, irritable, sleep-deprived, and miserable. If you fear the future and it is getting you down, challenge yourself to do something new, creative, or productive.
That could be going for a run to break the thought cycle, focusing on a DIY project you’ve been putting off for ages, or finally getting round to clearing out your closet.
It isn’t about using that energy to achieve anything specific, but about taking the reigns of your thought processes away from the anxiety and leading them somewhere with clearer air to breathe.
3. Be present.
Human brains are like a rollercoaster ride, and if you become fixated on fear, or the unknown, it can spiral until you find it hard to think about anything else!
What you can do is see what is in front of you, right here and right now.
Say you are fearful that your relationship won’t last. If you are happy now, you are spending time together now, and you do whatever you can do today to protect your emotional resilience, you have done all you can.
4. Meditate and focus on the positive.
Meditation is a powerful tool, and when practiced often, it can be a technique that feels like pressing a reset button on our psyche. Sometimes, fear has grown from a tiny seed of doubt to an overwhelming blanket of stress, and allowing your mind time and space to feel, wonder, and reflect can be an emotional makeover.
If you can, visualize what might happen if the best possible outcome is realized. There is probably just as much chance that you will win as there is of losing. If you can rethink the messages you are telling yourself, you will awaken those emotions of joy and success to battle with the negative thought processes.
5. Remember how strong you are.
It’s easy to become doubtful, worry, and panic that things aren’t going to swing your way. But, of all the fights you have fought, the races you have run, the obstacles you have climbed, you are still here.
Being defeated is a choice – and if you refuse to settle for that option, you give yourself the right to fight back, even if the future isn’t quite what you’re hoping for.
What happened last time you were scared? Didn’t you get through it? You did, you can, and you will do again.
Finally, remember that you can ask for help. People who love us have all probably had a sense of anxiety about something. Moreover, in a world fraught with tension, it’s easy to become swept up in a cycle of fear of the future that does not serve us well.
The future isn’t ours to know or control. But today is what we’ve got, and what we do with that time matters.
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