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Fear of the Unknown: Where It Comes From and How to Deal With It

Do you excessively worry about the future? 

Or perhaps you tend to catastrophize or imagine a worst-case scenario whenever you’re faced with uncertainty? 

If these sound familiar to you, then you may have a fear of the unknown. 

To some degree, we all fear what we don’t know. It’s human nature. 

However, there are times when fear of the unknown is so intense that it makes you anxious and keeps you in a cycle of excessive worry, anticipation, and panic.

Even worse, a fear of the unknown can paralyze you and prevent you from living out your true potential. You may be unwilling to take risks or impose artificial limits on yourself just to avoid being in unfamiliar situations. 

If you feel like you may have an extreme fear of the unknown, don’t worry. I’ll explain what this fear really is, why it happens, and how you can deal with it and manage it effectively. 

Read on to learn:

  • What fear of the unknown is. 
  • The symptoms and what it looks like.
  • What causes fear of the unknown.
  • Who is most likely to be affected.
  • Three effective strategies to overcome fear of the unknown.

What Exactly Is a Fear of the Unknown?

Fear of the unknown can be described as the fear of something you have no information about and no control over. 

An example of this is fear of the future. None of us know what our future looks like, but most of us don’t let this get in our way. We plan and strive for the future we want without letting the uncertainty hold us back. 

However, for some people, not knowing what the future holds is downright terrifying. The uncertainty frightens them and puts them in a state of hyperarousal, which is a fear state that continues to build up. 

This fear overwhelms them to the point where they prefer to remain in their comfort zone and not take any risks that might change their life—even for the better. 

When you think about it, those with a fear of the future aren’t afraid of the actual passing of time—what they’re terrified of is not knowing whether their life will turn out the way they want it to. 

In its extreme form, fear of the unknown is also called “xenophobia.” Though the word has evolved in modern times to mean the fear of strangers or foreigners, its original meaning was a fear of anything or anyone unfamiliar or unknown. 

What Does Fear of the Unknown Look Like?

For most of us, being wary of unknown objects, people, and situations is entirely normal. It’s natural to feel anxious at a new job or when talking to a stranger. 

However, if you have an intense fear of the unknown, day-to-day life can be incredibly stressful because of your constant fear. You may find it difficult to function whenever you encounter something or someone unfamiliar. 

You may also experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations.
  • Dry mouth or shallow breathing.
  • Panic attacks at the thought of the unknown.
  • Tense muscles.
  • Anxiety and a tendency to run away or avoid situations that force you to change your routine or face strangers.

If you also tend to catastrophize or imagine worst-case scenarios whenever you face an unpredictable situation, it could be a sign that you have a fear of the unknown. 

What Causes a Fear of the Unknown?

what causes a fear of the unknown?

Many things can cause a fear of the unknown, but from her 30 years of experience as a therapist, Marisa Peer observed that our fear of the unknown usually stems from previous trauma.

One of Marisa’s “Rules of the Mind” is that the mind does what it thinks you want it to do. Your subconscious records your previous experiences and guides you to do what it believes to be in your best interest. 

So, for example, if you had ventured into an unfamiliar situation before and experienced a traumatic and distressing event, your mind starts to associate the unknown with danger.

It sounds elementary, but the fact is that our subconscious is designed to do one thing, which is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s not very good in being objective about what’s beneficial for you in the long run. 

Your fear of the unknown could simply be your subconscious mind’s way of protecting you from reliving your previous hurts. 

Who’s More Likely To Suffer From a Fear of the Unknown?

Anyone who’s suffered from trauma can develop a fear of the unknown, although modern research has shown that this fear is more likely among certain groups.

Sufferers of anxiety and fear disorders

A recent study discovered that people with social anxiety disorder and those with specific phobias might have a heightened fear of the unknown. 

Researchers tested the startle reflex of 160 adults to unpredictable sounds and shocks, andhey discovered that those with social anxiety disorder and specific phobias blinked more intensely and more often when anticipating an unknown, unpleasant experience.

Researchers concluded that these individuals had a higher sensitivity to anxiety about the unknown. Children with anxiety disorders were also particularly vulnerable to this type of fear. 

Major depression

Some experts have speculated that sufferers of major depression experience anxiety, which exacerbates fear of the unknown. 

While the connection isn’t clear, researchers have found a link between sufferers of major depression with an intolerance of uncertainty. 

Eating disorders

A 2017 study discovered that people with eating disorders felt anxious when thinking about the uncertainty of the future. 

This anxiety was more pronounced in sufferers of eating disorders who were more introverted and less secure in connecting to others. 

Alcohol abuse

Studies have shown a link between alcohol abuse and fear of the unknown. Researchers carried out an experiment using predictable and unpredictable electric shocks on study participants and discovered that those with alcohol use disorder were extra sensitive to uncertainty. 

Experts theorized that these people might be using alcohol to cope with their fear of uncertainty. 

How To Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown

how to overcome your fear of the unknown

The good news is that overcoming the fear of the unknown is just like overcoming any other phobia—it is possible, and you have the power to overcome it. 

Recognize that your fear of the unknown is an acquired trait, which means that just like how you learned this behavior, you can also reprogram your mind to unlearn it. 

Marisa Peer has worked with thousands of clients around the globe who suffered from the same fear, and she uses these powerful strategies to help them free their minds from fear and live more courageously.  

Develop a greater awareness 

Whenever you start to feel anxious, worried, or stressed over an unfamiliar situation, listen to your self-talk. What are the words that you’re saying to yourself whenever you experience this fear?

It probably sounds something like this:

“I just know the absolute worst thing is going to come out of this.”

“What if I don’t find another job? What if I end up homeless and begging for money?”

“If I have to do it, I’m going to die for sure.”

Listen to these thoughts and write them down. It may also be helpful to note which situations trigger this fear and if there’s a pattern to this mindset and behavior.

You’ll realize that from the words you use, you’re indirectly telling your subconscious to be afraid. You’re painting an image in your mind that’s terrifying, and your subconscious responds to it. 

Marisa recalls one particular client: “He was a lovely client who had cancer but could not go in the hospital scanner. He said, ‘Every time I go in it, I feel like I’m in my coffin and I’m going to die. I have to press the button and come out because I’m so claustrophobic, I can’t do it.’ 

“The hospital said that he had to go in the scanner to see if his cancer treatment was working. He said, ‘I can’t. I’ve tried, but the minute that drawer goes in, I tell myself I’m in my coffin, it’s like a premonition, I’m going to die of cancer, and I have to get out.’ 

“Notice what he was doing with the pictures and words he was using. He was saying, ‘I can’t,’ and linking it to dying. He was indirectly telling his mind to fear the scanner.

“The same effect applies to you as well. Pay attention to the words you use to talk to yourself. They have a tremendous effect on how you react to a situation.”

Change the words you use to describe your fear 

Once you have better clarity and awareness of your self-talk, it’s time to change it to something more empowering. 

Marisa advises changing the words you use to address your fear of the unknown. Instead of catastrophizing or imagining a worst-case scenario, try to imagine a more favorable outcome instead.

So rather than say, “I’m going to die if I do this,” change it to, “This is going to be an interesting experience!”

You’ll be surprised how differently your mind and body react when you change the words you use to address your fear. 

Here’s the solution Marisa gave to her client who was afraid to go into the scanner: 

“I told him, ‘You are going to get in that scanner and go, “Wow, how lovely, I’ve got 30 minutes to relax.” Imagine you are in bed. Tell yourself, “I’m super chilled. This is so relaxing. I’m just going to lie here and do nothing, it is wonderful, and I can easily do it. I am choosing to lie in this scanner and tell my brain this is just like being in bed. When I’m in my bed at home, I lie still, I relax, stress drains away.”’

“When he went into a hospital and did it, the whole medical team gave him a standing ovation. He said that meant more to him than all of his businesses.”

Make this new belief familiar

Once you’ve changed the way you talk and react to your fear of the unknown, the next step is to normalize it.

Life is full of uncertainties, and your fear of the unknown is bound to pop up again and again. The trick is to learn to be comfortable with some degree of uncertainty. 

Whenever an unfamiliar situation pops up and you begin to feel anxious, make it a habit to analyze your self-talk and change it to something more empowering. 

Rather than imagine the worst possible outcome of an unfamiliar situation, consider the best possible outcome instead. This can result in a dramatic change in your attitude. 

Although you won’t always get the outcome you desire, you’ll notice that things are rarely as bad as you imagine them to be. 

Continue repeating this until it becomes second nature to you. You’ll realize those unfamiliar situations rarely turn out to be the worst-case scenario you imagined, and your fear of the unknown will be much more manageable.

The Most Effective Way To Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown

The above techniques will work with discipline, patience, and consistency. However, if you’d like to overcome your fear of the unknown once and for all, the quickest and most effective way is by working directly with your subconscious mind. 

Rapid Transformational Therapy® (RTT®) is a revolutionary therapy program Marisa Peer developed after 30 years of working with clients from all over the world and from all walks of life.

It combines the most powerful aspects of hypnosis, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more to help you release your fears and start living fully and more courageously.

What makes this program special is that it helps you go deep into your subconscious mind. It accesses the root causes of issues you have been struggling with and helps to change the stories, words, and pictures in your mind.

RTT® can help you to overcome your fear of the unknown in three simple steps:

  1. Hypnosis is used to guide you into a deeply relaxed state to help you explore where your fear of the unknown comes from.
  2. Reframing the pictures and words your mind associates with the unknown and replacing them with empowering ones.
  3. Making the new pictures and words familiar to your mind by repeating them to yourself every day and taking action. As a result, you will perceive things differently in your everyday life. 

With the guidance of a certified RTT® therapist, you can replace negative pictures and words associated with the unknown with ones that bring positive emotions such as happiness and fulfillment related to achieving your goals. 

This way, your subconscious mind will start associating unfamiliar situations with excitement and opportunity rather than fear and negative outcomes. 

Join the 21-Day Unstoppable Confidence Challenge

When you are looking to overcome your fear of the unknown, it pays to make sure you have an active role in the process, and invest your time in making productive steps to overcoming your phobia.

One fantastic way to do this is to join Marisa Peer’s 21-Day Unstoppable Confidence Challenge. Fear of the unknown can be rooted in low self-esteem and confidence, as you may worried that you won’t be able to handle whatever is thrown at you.

This challenge is designed to help you overcome whatever is holding you back, and build yourself up into the confident person you deserve to be, so you can face the unknown bravely, and with the unshakeable belief that you can handle anything.

Click the banner below to find out more about the training included with the challenge, and make sure you secure your spot today.

overcome your fear of the unknown with the 21 day unstoppable confidence challenge

The Key Takeaway

Being able to step outside your comfort zone is key to growth and fulfilling your potential. Fear of the unknown can be debilitating, preventing you from taking risks and improving your life for the better. 

Once you understand how the mind works, you can reprogram it to embrace uncertainty and step outside your comfort zone with confidence and a sense of adventure. 

By following the tips above and working with a certified RTT® therapist, you can step into your ideal life and enjoy everything it has to offer. 



Marisa shares her 30 years of experience as a multi-award-winning therapist to celebrities, top athletes, and even royalty. She is the founder and creator of RTT®, the cutting-edge method and hybrid solution-based approach that can deliver extraordinary transformations.



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