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How You Can Effectively Face Fear of the Unknown

Perspective influences our approach to our fears.

Key points

  • Thinking through our thoughts before acting them out could be useful when we are unsure what to do.
  • Finding out what makes us fear something can help us see more clearly.
  • Sharing our concern with somebody that we trust can go a long way.
  • Deciding to do things differently can contribute to a greater good.
Mike_Kiev/iStock, used with permission.
Source: Mike_Kiev/iStock, used with permission.

Fear is a natural part of life. No one can claim a fear-free life because there is always something that keeps us wondering how a situation could turn out.

Recent COVID-19 global health threats exposed us to very tangible matters of life and death. The pandemic that brought the world to a halt clearly exposed our frailties and the way well-intentioned people sometimes can overreact to an event due to the fear of the unknown. Fear dwarfs our productivity, communication, ability to create, and emotional well-being. One famous example was the toilet paper hoarding at the beginning of the pandemic.

Some people in the United States went into panic-buying of toilet paper for fear of running out of stock, which eventually caused a shortage of toilet paper. During the pandemic, some people’s food choices were influenced by fear. Some purchased quality food products to protect their immune system from the virus, while some stretched their food choices due to confinement caused by the pandemic. In so many ways, perspective is everything. Most of the time, we perceive things through the lens of our own experience, which further informs our opinions concerning a particular matter. If no opposing view is presented, it could determine our next course of action—whether to respond or react to a situation. Here are five suggestions for facing the fear of the unknown.

1. Respond to a situation: Sometimes, we confuse motion with progress. Responding to a situation requires a thorough and calculated approach to problem-solving. Just because an uncalculated decision is made to relieve an immediate issue does not necessarily mean that progress is made. Instead, it can mean that a series of reactive measures were taken. On the other hand, progress comes in the form of asking the right questions, deliberating, and executing the most appropriate option. For example, during COVID-19, scientists went into labs looking for an answer for how to reduce the spread of the virus. After a long and deliberate search, solutions were prescribed in the form of vaccines.

Because the global community came together for a common purpose, different points of views were presented and best solutions were selected. Essentially, the fear of the unknown can either lead us to do good or become passive. Perspective is what drives our decisions in a situation.

2. Trace the source: Sometimes, we fear what appears foreign to us and sometimes we allow other people’s narratives to shape our views. Simply put, fear generally has an origin either in something that happened to us directly or indirectly, by means of reading it from an article, social media, or hearsay. It is critical to trace the source of major fears in our lives.

Finding out why a particular fear is an issue in our lives is the beginning of overcoming that fear. For example, a person who has been fired from multiple jobs will have a particular stigma to workplace-related uncertainties for fear of losing their job. As a result of their past experience, minor issues can be blown out of proportion. Tracing the source of a particular fear could help us address such a fear, and talking openly with a trusted friend about our fears in the workplace can help.

3. Discuss your fears with a trusted person: Repressing fear can have a negative health-related impact on a person’s well-being. A repressed fear, over time, can lead to anxiety. Anxiety is heightened as a result of repressed negative emotions or a stress buildup. In other words, anticipating the worst in every situation can expose us to fear of the unknown. When that happens, seeking professional assistance can help. Sometimes, people have a tendency to not perceive a situation correctly, and it could require a second set of eyes to re-evaluate the situation.

4. Live in a community: A community is not defined by the structure of houses or the affluence of the neighborhood. Rather, a group of people who recognize the golden rule (treat others the way you want to be treated) and understand that people achieve more in a group reflect the practical definition of a community. Nobody alone is self-sufficient enough to be independent of others. People prosper socially, emotionally, and economically in healthy communities, not in isolation.

The true meaning of community is sharing our humanity with others irrespective of demographic characteristics. And healthy communities lead to a healthy nation. Destructive fear creates a lack of trust; a lack of trust creates doubt; doubt creates distance; distance creates isolation; and isolation heightens our negative fear of the unknown, which could lead to disunity. Nothing exists in a vacuum. When the pendulum swings to the left, it takes an equal force to bring it to an equilibrium, which means taking a calculated action is necessary.

5. Take action: Nothing works until we work it. Merely wishing for a change doesn’t bring change until action is taken. The only way to tell what somebody is thinking is by observing what they are doing or not doing. Therefore, activity is part of life. Simply said, any living creature that is idle for a long period of time can become a concern. In order to experience life to the fullest, we have to check our fears by questioning the origin of our fears and be willing to engage in soul searching and doing the work that is required to make us become whole.

Fear is as old as human existence. We can never get rid of all life’s fears, but we can choose the method by which we entertain our fears. We can fear constructively or destructively. To fear constructively suggests that we perceive our fears from a position of optimism, with boldness and resolve and take a calculated approach to understand and correct the source of our fears. Destructive fear takes root when we are irrational and lack knowledge of what we are experiencing.

Fear of the unknown can be a good thing, depending on how we perceive the unknown. Vaccines are discovered as a result of fear of what will happen to us if we don’t find a solution to the virus that could disrupt our lives. Destructive fear of the unknown can result in doing nothing about the virus: instead, we prefer to engage in the panic-buying of toilet paper. Both fears are human, but the latter was motivated by reaction as opposed to a thoughtful response to the event. Do we fear the unknown because it is unknown or so that the fear can motivate us to do something about it for the greater good? Following the suggestions in this article can help when it’s time to face our fear of the unknown.


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