Does Fear of Uncertainty Ever Go Away?

Q. How do you overcome the fear of uncertainty?

I want to be positive and look forward to my future while I enjoy my present. However, I feel overwhelmed with the fear of the uncertain. I want to know what’s going to happen and that I’m going to be successful… Does this fear ever go away?!

A. It might not go away but we get used to it.

Many women learn that you can’t control everything and the more you try…the more disappointed you will be. The key is learning how to embrace it. I think that is the true rite of passage of growing up…not just the diploma or first job. And know that you are not alone! Almost everyone faces the push and pull of excitement and fear in their twenties. One group of 40-something women I interviewed recalled dubbing their post college days as filled with FAS…Future Anxiety Syndrome. But for some it’s harder to deal with than others. Here is what some wonderful 40-something women wish they had known then:

Dear 20-something,

Go to a therapist.  At 47, I am finally seeing a therapist for the first time this Thursday.  I wish I would have done it years ago.  I have a wonderful husband, children, financial stability, etc. And I have had a perpetual tendency for dissatisfaction and fear of the future.  I have a sister and mother who have always been peaceful and happy.  I think outside help is needed to figure out why are you are fearful and how to address it.  The future is unknown which could be potentially fearful for everyone but it isn’t.  You (and I) need to figure out why we can’t cope with that uncertainty. – 40-something, consultant, married, mom, Washington, DC


Dear 20-Something,

Embrace it. I firmly believe that only really stupid people are never afraid. There are good reasons to be afraid! Life can be manageable even if it’s scary. Think about how the possible scenarios might play out. What is the thing that you are most afraid of happening? Now imagine that it’s happened, and think about what you’d do to get through it. What’s the next worst thing? How might you deal with that situation when it happens?

I don’t think you should go around envisioning failure all the time, but if you can take some time to visualize getting through what you fear, by pondering calmly and rationally what the best action would be, you’ll be better equipped to handle the occasional crisis when it happens.

People who never allow themselves to consider failure tend to fall to pieces when they actually face adversity. People who foresee risk, acknowledge their fears, and plan a recovery tend to make it through while learning useful skills that can minimize risk the next time it presents itself.

Remember that most of your friends and colleagues won’t have the slightest idea that you’re scared of something unless you tell them — and you don’t have to tell them unless you want to.

Also, never underestimate the value of simply hanging in there and not letting anyone see you panic. I’ve gotten through a few sticky professional situations by waiting out storms of craziness that scared me to pieces at the time, but eventually became ancient memories. And yes, I am less fearful of many things now, but then there are new things (like my children’s health, financial security, and emotional well being) that fill the gap, so I worry just as much as I ever did.- 40-something, education, married mom, Los Angeles, CA


Dear 20-something, 

Do not let the fear of the unknown prevent you from moving forward in life.  It is perfectly natural to be uncertain about life, but don’t get “paralysis from over analysis”!  To move forward, requires taking risks.  You must put one foot in front of the other to walk and at one time, that was scary too.  Take action!  Make a list of the things you would like to achieve in the next 5 years and start working on them.  Many times having focus helps eliminate the “weight of the world” situation and you can direct your energy to the things you want most.  – 40-something, entrepreneur, married, mom, Brooklyn, NY


Dear 20-something,

Does it ever go away? Nope! But you can still be a positive person without ever knowing what’s going to happen or losing your habit of worrying. Without going into detail, my family and I have had a stressful couple of years. We’re pretty fed up, collectively. At the same time, we’ve still got a lot to be thankful for. My mom’s 70, and her trick is to look around and notice the other people who have it worse, and then be grateful that she’s not in their shoes.

I’m 42, and mine is to think about things that made me happy each day, and try to focus on at least one thing that I can do each day to make someone happy. When I have a really good day…wow, do I appreciate it. My sisters have their own strategies.

The stuff that we’ve gone through is all normal life. We’ll eventually come out on the other end. Nobody is perfectly happy all the time — people get injured, sick, laid off. That stuff is going to happen whether you worry about it or not. Learning how to be resilient is just part of growing up. Possibly the worst part, but it goes along with a lot of other really good parts.


Dear 20-something,

 It doesn’t go away…but it will all be okay. Uncertainty is just a part of life. As you go through more cycles of life you will see that you make the best decisions you can at the time and then you focus on what is important. Try to enjoy what you do have and do know rather than lament what you don’t have or ruminate on what you don’t know.

Believe me you will have plenty of time to push the reset button if you work hard and learn to manage relationships. I think a little bit of ignorance is bliss. You aren’t tied down by “that won’t work” limitations and can see outside the box. So enjoy it and use it now. The only trouble is when you begin to thrive on uncertainty and create it in your own life to your own detriment of others! – 20-something, divorced, marketing, Columbus, Ohio

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