How to Overcome Fear of the Future
You can feel anxious about something happening right now.
And you can feel anxious about something that hasn't even happened yet.
That's what we're going to focus on today--future fear, also known as fear of the future, or anticipatory anxiety.
It can be an absolutely draining thing.
I know this from experience.
But...there are ways to tackle this type of anxiety and lessen--and eventually overcome--the hold that fear of the future has on your life.
Because life is hard enough as it is--there's no need for that sneaky future to control your life when it hasn't even happened yet.
What is Fear of the Future / Future Fear?
The best way to learn about fear of the future is to go through a few examples.
Fear of the future can be:
- Feeling nervous about a presentation you need to give next week
- Overthinking and worrying ahead of a visit from your in-laws
- Being anxious about the approach of major life events, such as a wedding, a birth, or graduation from high school or college
What I'm trying to say is this: not everyone deals with debilitating anxiety like I have in the past, but everyone can wrap their mind around what it feels like to fear the future.
Why Does it Happen?
To understand where fear of the future comes from, you have to understand where your ancestors came from.
Back in the day of tribes and hunters and gatherers, there were people, your past people, who were on high alert for dangers that might come their way--scary things like massive beasts that might threaten their livelihood or terrible weather that might threaten their camp.
Anxiety and thinking about what the future might hold was not only helpful--it was crucial to the survival of your past people. Not being able to prepare for the future might be the difference between life and death.
Fortunately for us, life isn't always that serious anymore.
But your brain doesn't know that.
Your brain evolved over a period of thousands and thousands of years. It was forged in the fires of a dangerous world.
And so this is something that you, living your modern life, need to contend with.
It can be a major challenge. It was for me for many, many years.
But fearing the future is not a life sentence--it's something that can be overcome.
How to Overcome Fear of the Future
To overcome fear of the future, you need a game plan, and not just any one will do.
You need a game plan personalized for your life.
You're the one fearing the future, and the fears that you have are unique to your experience, your body, and your relationships.
Remember, mental health is a multifaceted thing and there are commonalities in how we all experience it, but the connecting points extend from who you are as a unique being.
1 - That's step one--realizing what your unique flavor of future fear is.
How does it taste? What does it feel like? Are there themes that come up, time and time again, in your life?
These are your targets, your starting points.
And hey, you may not always be able to identify what it is that is making you feel so anxious. That's OK, and it's perfectly normal.
As long as you start the process with intention, you'll be alright.
2 - Next up in this game plan is the actual planning part.
Now, this is where you need to be careful.
Planning can quickly turn into rumination, which can quickly turn into serious, emotional drainage.
A good plan for tackling the future, at least in my experience, is a rough outline.
It's a set of bullet points, either written down or typed on the computer, of the basic issue/problem that you're worrying about.
Research shows that writing something down makes your brain process it better, so this might be the best option for you, but again, do what feels right for you. This is YOUR life.
Map out the structure of the problem.
What is it exactly that's bothering you?
What might you do if scenario one happens? What might you do about scenario two?
Keep it simple--and focus only on what you can control.
Your brain wants to trick you. It wants to convince you that the world is ending and that you'll need to prepare for thousands of scenarios.
But you're not your ancestors. You're the Modern You.
Believe it or not, these two steps are enough for most people. The more I've done this, the more I've realized I don't need to get really detailed about my future fear. Just expressing it out loud and writing it down has been enough.
3 - But you might need one more step, and the final step is taking action.
Action is the antidote.
Future fear literally can't exist if you're moving and taking action.
The world changes as you act.
When you're in motion, acting and being, there's no time or space to have countless thoughts about the future.
And it doesn't necessarily need to be action preventing a disastrous future outcome. The odd thing is that your emotions change when you're in motion, period.
Try it out.
Go for a run. Do a few push-ups. And then do a mental / physical / emotional reading of how you feel compared to minutes before. It's almost magical the changes that can occur in a short amount of time.
Fearing the Future Does Not Need to Control Your Life
If it is controlling your life right now, be gentle with yourself.
Even though it may seem like you've wasted enough time already fearing the future, you don't have to view it that way.
Consider it a past course in wisdom-gathering.
Because you've been there, you have the information you need to go somewhere else.
Think of your ancestors roaming, on foot, across rough terrain.
Think about how scared they must have been.
They gave you the tools you need. It's the world that has changed.
Now all you need to do is use ancient tools to adapt to this modern world.
You can feel anxious about something you did.