I’m the sort of person that doesn’t like change and prefers a set routine. I don’t like unexpected visitors, and I certainly do not do spontaneous stuff. I’ve always thought that this is down to my introverted and possibly even schizoid personality. But recently, I’ve been wondering, is a fear of uncertainty to blame?
I read somewhere that there’s no such thing as fear. Fear is the worry that something awful will occur in a future that hasn’t yet happened. But if the future has not yet happened, why should we be worried about it?
As someone who has struggled with a phobia for the last few decades, I can tell you that worrying in advance is a prerequisite for fear. It is exactly that worry that prevents you from moving forward.
It’s the ‘what if’ I get stuck in this elevator and can’t get out? ‘What if’ I stand up to give a presentation and my mind goes blank? ‘What if’ I panic on a train and I can’t get off?
The mind is a wonderful thing, but it is also a treacherous enemy to those who suffer from panic and anxiety. The constant fear of uncertainty in a world where perfection is everything can be severely debilitating.
What’s wrong with uncertainty?
But is uncertainty really so bad? What about the surprise birthday party or a chance meeting with a friend you haven’t seen for years? I guess the difference is that these are good and welcoming incidents. When we think about uncertainty, our minds tend to focus on the negative; on what bad things can happen.
We can trace this back to our evolutionary roots. Humans need to know certain things so that they can survive. They need to know they have food, shelter, warmth, and are free from immediate danger.
Being certain about these things makes us feel safe and secure. We feel in control of our lives. In times of uncertainty, whether it is a pandemic, a time of financial crisis, or the loss of a job or a loved one, we feel hopeless and out of control.
Of course, some people love this sense of uncertainty. Extroverts are more likely to enjoy risk-taking and jump at the chance of leaping in at the deep end, compared to introverts. They live life with no clear structure and delight in the randomness and spontaneity of their lives.
But for others, this is highly distressing. And I count myself amongst the highly distressed. I worry that I don’t know how I will cope if something bad happens. Will I crumble and end up in a mental hospital with my family and friends looking in through barred windows, shaking their heads as I stare off into space?
Of course, this is highly unlikely to happen, but it doesn’t stop me from worrying. My worry of not being able to cope is real. It’s this worry about how I will handle the bad things that makes me fear uncertainty.
So what are the signs of fear of uncertainty?
7 signs of a fear of uncertainty
1. You find it hard to make decisions.
What do you do, stay in a toxic situation or make a decision to do something? Typically, a person who is afraid of uncertainty will do nothing. Why? Because at least they know what to expect in the situation they are in. Whether it’s a bad job or an abusive relationship, who’s to say you’ll be better off if you leave? Things might be worse.
2. You don’t like changes to your routine.
I’m guilty of this. I have a set routine that I stick to every day. If something or someone messes it up, I feel anxious and tense for days before and afterward. Yet, I also get bored with my own company and have terrible cases of FOMO. But despite this, I won’t put myself out there and change up my routine.
3. You don’t follow your dreams and goals.
Did you have dreams once-upon-a-time, but you’ve convinced yourself that this sheltered life is what you want? Have you settled for a life of compromise because you are afraid of an uncertain future? Do you sometimes feel resentful when you see others achieving their dreams?
4. You need constant reassurance from friends and family.
Fear of uncertainty causes anxiety. Anxious people need constant reassurance from the people they love. They will want to know:
“Am I doing the right thing?”
“What do you think I should do?”
“What would you do in my situation?”
5. You double-check everything.
Some people are so fearful of uncertainty they develop compulsive disorders such as OCD. They believe that they can control every eventuality by checking and double-checking. Not only that, but they believe that something bad will happen if they don’t keep checking.
6. You become a control freak.
One way to stop uncertainty is to control everything within your power. You don’t let work colleagues help with projects, you refuse assistance from family members, and everything has to be just as you want it. That way you know nothing is left to chance.
7. You avoid situations where you feel out of control.
Feeling safe is like having a warm, soft blanket wrapped around you. So taking that blanket off and experiencing the cold reality of the world can be daunting. If you have started to avoid situations that make you feel unsafe, this is a sign that fear of uncertainty is ruining your life.
What to do if fear of uncertainty is ruining your life?
No one can predict the future, so it is important to recognise that life is full of uncertainty. When we think of uncertainty, we tend to focus on the negative, because not knowing what the future holds is scary. But uncertainty can bring good and bad things.
Think of all the times something wonderful happened to you when you were not expecting it. Even small things like finding your favourite trainers on sale unexpectedly. Or, running into an old friend in town you haven’t seen for years.
So, if you feel your fear of uncertainty is starting to overwhelm you, remember the following:
- No one can predict the future
- We all deal with uncertainty daily
- Bad things rarely happen
- What you are really worried about is how you will cope
- Focus on what is within your control
- Stop thinking ‘what if’
- Focus on what is happening right now – in the present
- Try not to catastrophise
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by a fear of uncertainty, but remember, fear is something that hasn’t happened yet. So why waste time worrying about something in the future that may not even happen? And if the worse does happen, remember, you’ve coped before and you’ll cope again.
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