Photography by Eddie Justice ©2020
Fear is an emotion each of us have felt at one time or another. It is one that humans and animals are designed to react to. But when fears are left to their own design, they can be crippling.
Anyone who has suffered with fear of death, spiders, flying, isolation, loss, or others, can understand the impact this emotion can have on the psyche and behavior. But when underlying fears lead to a storm of tears, it is necessary to address what is causing the inferno inside.
One fear that is alleged to be "the fundamental fear" as well as a facilitator of anxiety, is the fear of the unknown (Carleton, 2016). Often a heightened fear of ambiguous or uncertain situations tends to be the root of "most fear-based psychopathologies" (Bergland, 2016). This fear in itself impacts other fears.
Individuals who fear the unknown can feel frozen, or unable to leave their home each day. This fear escalates when the individuals catastrophizies outcomes. The year 2020 has certainly seen an acceleration of these fears due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has impacted overall health and well-being across the globe.
Anticipatory anxiety, or the anxiety that occurs when we fear the unknown, may also be the most difficult to face due to one's belief that there is no controlling the outcome. Anticipatory anxiety can cause an underlying sense of nervousness or worse, a "debilitating sense of dread" (Healthline, 2020).
Symptoms of anticipatory anxiety or the fear of the unknown, can range from: difficulty concentrating, changing emotions and moods, numbness of emotions, loss of interest or pleasure from once pleasurable activities, restless energy or jumpiness, appetite loss, nausea, and difficulty sleeping (Healthline, 2020). Helplessness about the outcome of a situation can also lead to hopelessness.
One unhealthy choice individuals who fear the unknown makes, is avoidance. Unfortunately, avoiding to face the fear and go outside of the home can lead to agoraphobia, and even more impairment. Avoidance decreases anxiety and instead seems to solve the problem, but unfortunately only conditions the individual to avoid.
Avoidance is not a cure; avoidance fuels the flame until it becomes and inferno of fear.
Should you be experiencing any of these difficult symptoms or cycles, please take notice of your thoughts. Are you spending a lot of time imagining the worst possible outcomes? Do you feel helpless or a lack of control?
Anxiety is meant to help us prepare to survive a situation. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counselors ask clients to keep a thought record log. Should someone feel stuck due to fears of the unknown, counselors help bring the science behind the fears to sort out more precise possibilities. Then, we help individuals prepare for each possible scenario.
The unknown is no longer fearful when control is merely a thought away.
Counseling can also be a means to help individuals become more "tolerant of uncertainty" (Grupe & Nitschke, 2013). One evidence-based tool researchers recommend to help with tolerance is Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the non-judgemental awareness of the present moment. When individuals are able to stay present, accepting of a current moment, worries of the past, and fears of the future become less daunting.
Diaphragmatic Breathing is one mindful activity known to decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and stall or prevent panic attacks. I offer this recording to help teach Mindfulness, with an aim of reducing the fear flame to ashes. Should you need support with fears or avoidance, help is just a phone call away.
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor counseling Ohio Adults through confidential video counseling. firstname.lastname@example.org, ph (513) 234-9184, email email@example.com
Bergland, C. (2016, November 21). Study: fear of the unknown compounds many anxiety disorders.
Carleton, R.N. (2016) Fear of the unknown: One fear to rule them all? Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
Grupe, D. W., and Nitschke, J.B. (2013). Uncertainty and anticipation in anxiety. Nat Rev Neurosci.
14(7):488-501. doi:10.1038/nm3524 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276319/
Healthline (2020). Meet anticipatory anxiety, the reason you worry about things that haven't happened