Living in Fear of the Future: What to Do

Frustrated young woman suffering from the headache while sitting on the sofa at home with an expression of being unwell, with eyes closed.

PixelsEffect / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

As the world works to come out of a global pandemic, it's understandable if your fear of the future has reached an all-time high. That said, if you're starting to find that it's impacting your ability to make decisions or impacting you daily, it may be time to seek help.

To learn more, we spoke with Frank Anderson, MD, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist who specializes in trauma treatment.

"Dreading the future, or more commonly known as anticipatory fear, is quite common and can be quite debilitating in extreme cases," says Anderson. "People struggle with anticipatory fear when they worry about the outcome of a future event they have never experienced before."

Anticipatory fear can also be linked to the intolerance of uncertainty, which can lead to indecisiveness when it comes to large and small decisions, as well as an increased likelihood of constant comparison. The intolerance of uncertainty can lead to anticipatory fear, as it causes people to continually overthink the possible outcomes of their decisions.

This article looks at how anticipatory fear might manifest through a person's habits and actions. It also outlines coping methods and tips on looking for therapists who can help with this issue.

What Anticipatory Fear Might Look Like

Anderson explained three ways that people might experience anticipatory fear. This, it turns out, is the brain's way of trying to help manage any negative outcomes in future events.

Avoiding Prior Painful Experiences

This is a common reason why people may experience anticipatory fear. Past negative experiences can make people feel worried that the same series of events will line up allowing the past to recreate itself.

Frank Anderson, MD

When the anticipatory fear is rooted in a past event or experience, it is often associated with dread, which can be physiologically intense and frequently associated with something ominous or traumatic in nature. Some form of trauma is often at the root of a dread response.

— Frank Anderson, MD

While it's important to learn from past experiences to a certain degree, it's also important to remember that situations can change for the better.

Protective Responses

Of course, nerves and anticipation that stem from past experiences are really just your brain's way of trying to protect you.

One study that followed foreign exchange students during their first semester abroad found that moderate levels of anticipatory fear were associated with higher levels of adaptive outcomes in students.

That said, if you're experiencing high levels of anticipatory fear, protective responses can lead to being unable to think clearly, being afraid to leave the house, or even being afraid of most social interactions. This is when it's time to seek out help from a licensed therapist.

Preventative Preoccupation

Anderson names preventative preoccupation as a reason why many people experience anticipatory fear. This is when people begin to obsess over potential risks as a result of something that happened in the past.

It is often experienced by people who have struggled with anorexia nervosa, or other eating disorders, as psychologists realized that many survivors become overly preoccupied with the fear of relapse or, in this case, weight gain.

Ways to Fight Anticipatory Fear

Below are some ways that can help you tackle anticipatory fear.

Practice Mindfulness

Research has shown that mindfulness can improve emotion regulation, which is incredibly helpful in reducing stress.

It has also been shown to improve present-moment awareness, which is particularly important for people who worry about future events. Research even found that mindfulness can potentially alter parts of the brain to help improve self-awareness over time.

Repeat Mantras

While Anderson notes that mantras are short-term fixes that aren't associated with permanent relief, he says that they can "help mitigate the anticipatory fear response."

You can repeat things like:

  • "I am safe."
  • "Nothing bad will happen to me."
  • "Everything will be OK."

Anderson notes that saying things like this to yourself can be helpful as your search for a long-term solution.

Exercise

Exercising, especially trying new forms of exercise or exercises that also incorporate mindfulness like yoga, can help keep you in the present moment. This way you are forced to think about the task at hand rather than worry about the future.

Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal can help you fight off hindsight bias, which is when you get caught up thinking that you had better control of past events.

Journaling can also help you stave off the thoughts that the past was much more ideal. Finally, keeping a journal can also help bring the focus into the present moment, as well as positive aspects of the present and future.

Seeking a Therapist

Whether you have found yourself experiencing anticipatory fear as a result of past traumas or for another reason altogether, it is important to find a therapist who can help you. Specifically, it would be helpful to seek out a therapist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.

Below, you can find some tips on finding the therapist that can help you manage anticipatory fear:

  • When looking for a therapist, make sure they are accredited by The American Psychological Association.
  • Consider factors like age, gender, and religion to make sure that you find a therapist that will be a good match.
  • Make sure you check their website to see if they take your insurance.
  • In the first session, come prepared with questions for your therapist that will help you better understand their history of treating people with similar concerns.

A Word From Verywell

It is completely normal to fear the future, but definitely take note if your fears are starting to take up a lot of your mental space. It's also important to notice if your actions are being impacted by your concerns. That said, hopefully, you can rest a little easier knowing that there are ways to get help and to move past these fears.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. A. Kuiper, N., & Butzer, B. (2006). Relationships between the frequency of social comparisons and self-concept clarity, intolerance of uncertainty, anxiety, and depressionPersonality and Individual Differences41(1), 167–176.

  2. Chiu, M. L. (1995). The influence of anticipatory fear on foreign student adjustment: An exploratory studyInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations19(1), 1–44.

  3. Neumark-Sztainer, D. (1995). Excessive Weight Preoccupation Normative but Not HarmlessNutrition Today30(2), 68–74.

  4. Tang, Y.-Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditationNature Reviews Neuroscience Volume16, 213–225.