- Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC
June 20, 2020
Photograph by Eddie Justice ©2020
Fear is an emotion each of us feels. It is within us for survival. Humans and animals are designed to react when we fear. 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 disruptive anxiety, 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 pathologies (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 catastrophize 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 gets in the way
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 far from a cure
Avoidance of doing the thing that is feared is not a cure; avoidance fuels the flame until it becomes an 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. A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) strategy includes keeping a thought log. Ask yourself if you have the evidence to support your fear?
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-judgmental 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 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 who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.steppingtowardserenity.org
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.
41:5-21. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.03.011
Grupe, D. W., and Nitschke, J.B. (2013). Uncertainty and anticipation in anxiety. Nat Rev Neurosci.
14(7):488-501. doi:10.1038/nm3524. Retrieved from
Healthline (2020). Meet anticipatory anxiety, the reason you worry about things that haven't
happened yet. https://www.healthline.com/health/anticipatory-anxiety