We feel confident when we know what to expect in the future and anxious when things around us become unpredictable. This feeling can arise from a fear of the future. Let’s see how it works and what can help you cope with it.
Two-thirds of Brits aged 16 to 25 feel anxious when thinking about the future, according to a survey conducted by The Prince’s Trust youth project. Researchers attribute such high levels of anxiety to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear of the future is reinforced by worries about future employment and career opportunities, which seem impossible against the backdrop of the general economic recession.
Doubts about a beautiful future are also reflected in international surveys among young people. Researchers at the University of Bath have calculated that three quarters of 16 to 25 year olds rate the future as “scary.” This time the backdrop for the fear was climate change and the belief that politicians and older generations have “betrayed” them and given up the fight for a better and safer future for their children and grandchildren.
How the Mechanism of the Fear of Future Is Triggered
Anxiety and fear are normal. In psychology, they are basic and even necessary for human survival, and they can appear because of external or internal experiences. Fear of the future is based on the realization that the future is unknown, and therefore, we cannot prepare for it to survive.
The emotion of the fear of the future is born out of an information vacuum. There is no information, no data that our intellect can process and make a decision, a course of action. This deprives our brain of the possibility of survival: we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and we cannot plan how to survive in what we don’t know. This is where the emotion of fear is reflected.
Every time the brain is faced with a situation where it doesn’t know what will happen and what to do to survive, fear hits the nervous system and can go into the background. Anxiety then becomes constant. This state exhausts the psyche and nervous system; a person isn’t meant to be in a state of stress all the time and risks coming to emotional burnout. That’s even the reason why we prefer playing old games like Book of Oz free play or watching our favorite TV show instead of switching to something new.
The source of this fear is external circumstances — events that we cannot influence and that disrupt the usual order of things. These can be global warming or pandemics. However, we often make things worse for ourselves when an event has already happened and we consume too much information in an attempt to learn as much as we can about it.
Such actions are called doomscrolling by psychologists. We come to it because of a cognitive error. It seems to us that the more information we have, the better protected we are. However, consuming information we cannot influence increases our powerlessness and sense of hopelessness about the situation, increasing the amount of fear, that is, the inability to survive. An excess of disturbing and scary data that we have no control over reduces the amount of information about what will happen to us next and whether we can survive, all of which creates fear of the future.
How to Fight Your Fear Back
Adequate worries about the future are natural for a person and even useful. Thanks to them, we follow the regime of the day to get up on time for work, perform work tasks to get paid, and find time for rest because without pauses or vacations, we won’t be able to work. But sometimes fear of the future goes beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, as indicated by the following signs:
- Increased anxiety and worry. We begin to worry about upcoming events that haven’t happened yet or may not even happen at all. For example, fear of losing a job or being left without savings, although there are no objective risks for this.
- Avoiding long-term planning because of fear of failure or uncertainty. We put off starting a family or planning a career because we fear unfavorable circumstances.
- Avoiding new opportunities and change. We refuse to change jobs or create new projects because we are intimidated by possible changes.
- A tendency toward pessimism. A person with fear of the future tends to deny any prospects and focus only on unfavorable factors, remaining convinced that the situation is only getting worse.
- Physical symptoms. These can be insomnia and poor falling asleep, tension, sleeping too short or too long, or headaches.
Speaking of the fear of the future even in difficult times, it’s worth remembering those who went through something similar and found the strength to share such an experience. For example, Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl, who survived imprisonment in a concentration camp, wrote that in the most difficult situations, a person can be supported by his goals. Start by setting small weekly or monthly goals and moving toward achieving them. On the one hand, this will give your life meaningfulness, and on the other hand, it will reinforce the useful memory that most of your goals are realizable and you are capable of achieving what you want.