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Dealing With Fear of the Unknown

What to do if you believe an unpleasant surprise awaits you.

Key points

  • Some people fear the change that might occur because of an unknowable event.
  • While people often cannot control events, they can control how they react.
  • Anxiety can improve with adequate sleep, diet, and exercise.
Source: EtiAmmos/Shutterstock

Fear of the unknown is common among many of my patients with anxiety. When I ask why they worry, many say they do not know. Some say they worry the unknown could lead to a worst-case scenario. Some patients who fear change also fear the unknown because of the change that might come with it. Sometimes, patients even find themselves too afraid to leave a bad situation because of their fear of the unknown.

I believe that at the core of much of the fear of the unknown is my patients’ worry that they will not know how to react appropriately in an unknown situation, which could cause them to be very uncomfortable or bring about a catastrophic bad outcome. Conversely, they might become successful and then will have added pressure from having to deal with heightened expectations of themselves or others.

The term “xenophobia,” often applied to fear of strangers or foreigners, actually encompasses fear of all that is unknown.

Addressing the Fear of the Unknown

To help address their fear, I talk to my patients about their strengths and abilities. I point out that they will or have learned to cope better with various life challenges through our work together. For example, my patients learn that while they often cannot control the challenges they face, through hypnosis and practice, they usually can control their own emotional reactions to these challenges.

Further, my patients learn how to choose the best course of action during challenging times by taking time to think through their decisions, which may include consultation with their subconscious. It is also helpful for patients to rehearse in hypnosis how they might deal with challenges in imaginary scenarios, which helps them execute such actions more successfully in real life.

I point out to my older patients that they have proven competent in dealing with many scenarios in their lives, including learning how to ride a bicycle, drive, deal with a difficult teacher or boss, or cope with loss. Thus, there are many reasons to believe that they will be able to handle unknown situations. If not, they can most always ask for help.

Sometimes, it is helpful for patients to gather information about an unknown situation when possible. For example, if a patient is concerned about how they will perform on a test, they might find out details regarding the test-taking environment and rules so that they can become better prepared.

For patients who are religious, I ask if they believe that God watches over them and will help ensure that they do well. When they respond affirmatively, I suggest they recall this belief when they develop anxiety about the unknown.

We discuss whether fear of the unknown is realistic. For example, if an excellent employee fears how they will handle the situation if they are suddenly fired, they can learn to recognize that this is an extremely unlikely prospect. If a fear is unrealistic, it can be released in an unrealistic fashion, such as using hypnosis to imagine placing the fear into a helium-filled balloon and then letting it go.

As for all my patients dealing with anxiety, the three pillars of good health can help them feel better: Plenty of sleep, exercise, and a good diet. Talking with family and friends and journaling are other good ways of relieving anxiety.

Moving Forward

We discuss that avoiding what makes us anxious usually makes us more anxious. Thus, if the fear of the unknown causes someone to avoid certain situations, I encourage them to move forward, nonetheless, while using all the coping tools at their disposal. I remind my patients that embracing and struggling with their challenges are the first steps toward mastering them.

Finally, I remind my patients with anxiety of the quote by author Mark Twain, “I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” I suggest that dealing with things as they come is a much better life strategy than spending a lot of time fearing something that will never occur.


We can address the fear of the unknown by recognizing that the patient has the tools to deal with almost everything that might come their way.

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