Fear of the Unknown

Since I opened the door to talking about mental health, I want to continue on that theme and talk about fear, specifically, my fear of the unknown. In his paper published in ScienceDirect titled Fear of the unknown: One fear to rule them all?, R. Nicholas Carleton defines the fear of the unknown as “an individual’s propensity to experience fear caused by the perceived absence of information at any level of consciousness or point of processing”. Why do I want to talk about this? Because it is something that triggers my anxiety and I’m sure it also affects some of you in one way or another.

I recently realized that I was experiencing my fear of the unknown and challenged myself to push against it. I am a beginner with landscape photography, but when I’m in nature experiencing it, I love taking pictures of scenes that nourish my soul. Someday I would love to be good enough to sell some of my photography. But I can’t do that if I don’t get out into nature to take the pictures to edit. Once it dawned on me that I need to get outdoors more to get better at taking pictures, I set a goal to go into nature at least one day per month every month of the year. I know that when it is warm enough to camp again, I will be taking more, but during the winter, I don’t get out much. 

The first weekend I set that I was going to go out, I didn’t because it was supposed to be overcast. I used the clouds as an excuse instead of a feature in whatever pictures I could have taken. The second weekend in January that I said I was going, I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to go because it was partly cloudy. There was that excuse again. 

Those aren’t the only times I’ve made excuses to not get my ass into nature and enjoy the beauty that lights my soul on fire. It happens all of the time. Getting into nature isn’t the only thing I’ve made excuses for lately either. It happens for stupid shit around the house and for things as simple as taking the dogs for a walk. 

As I was laying in bed telling myself that it was okay that I didn’t go out into the cold for pictures of things I didn’t know I would encounter in cloudy conditions I realized what the real issue was. I was running into my fear of the unknown. I immediately identified it as anxiety, but I wasn’t getting the typical anxiety response that I get. It was fear of not knowing what I would encounter or experience or fully knowing how I was getting to the place I had an idea of going.

Fear of the unknown is a real thing that we experience. Sometimes it leads to more intense anxiety responses such as panic attacks. R. Nicholas Carleton posited that fear of the unknown is a fundamental fear. So how do we manage this fundamental fear? R. Nicholas Carleton didn’t provide specific things to help, but I can tell you what helped me that morning I was giving into a cloudy day.

The first thing I had to do was identify what was happening, and I did. The next thing I did was run through the what-if’s. What if you don’t go? What if you do go? What if you don’t find what you are looking for? What if you find more than you are looking for? What if it is crowded? What if you are the only person there? What if getting up and going this one time gives me the confidence to go next month or even next weekend?

I ran through the what-ifs and realized that all I was doing was holding myself back. And so I made a deal with myself. I told myself that if I get up and do my meditating and journaling and then go, I can stop and get an Americano on the way out. It was a simple cheap thing that I rewarded myself with for pushing past the fear. 

I had to challenge myself. I am competitive and a little competition with myself made my plans happen. And the best reward of it all was getting an absolutely beautiful sunrise and being able to play with settings and my drone. I realized on my way home that I’ve been succumbing to my fear of the unknown for quite some time. It’s with stupid little things like walking our two dogs by myself. Or doing something without my husband. I actually think I’ve become kind of codependent. That’s neither here nor there though. I’ve succumbed to my fear of the unknown with other things like reaching out to people to have different conversations that we normally do or reaching out to family members that make no effort to reach out to me.

My fear of the unknown holds me back. It held me back for almost a year with starting my podcast. I was afraid of what I didn’t know about how to create and post a podcast. Of course, I’m also afraid of failure, but that is a secondary fear for me.

What unknowns are you letting your fear hold you back from? Have you identified them? Are you open to identifying them? Why not?

Open your mind and start figuring out what is holding you back. If it is your fear of the unknown, then start with my what-if questions, see if those help you. If you are truly paralyzed by your fear or resulting anxiety, please ask for help. You are not alone and there are things you can do to overcome your fear. It can be done, little by little.

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