When we are alone in a dark room, the nagging ‘what-if’s’ typically present themselves through the rapid increase of our heart rates or bated breath. It’s not hard to start imagining things moving in the shadows, of a pair of eyes peering from under our beds or a figure looming in our closet because we left the door open slightly. Stress, anxiety, paranoia- it all comes with the territory of the fear of the unknown.
For some, not knowing what is going to happen next is more difficult to stomach. It can become so unbearable that it makes it difficult to function in their everyday lives. Paralyzed by uncertainty and a feeling of helplessness, life can become too overwhelming. Ordinary tasks that once seemed so simple can become extremely difficult because we can tend towards constantly doubting ourselves and second-guessing our choices or instincts. Fear can have differing implications, as well. Sometimes fear can lead to hatred, where people can behave irrationally and sometimes even violently.
The severe form of the fear of the unknown is referred to as Xenophobia.
It is an extreme condition of being afraid of what is different from you, or of experiencing trepidation towards those or things that are dissimilar to what you are accustomed to. Often people who experience Xenophobia can demonstrate unreasonable mindsets or ideologies about people or cultures that they deem to be foreign or odd. The fear of the unknown can then be better understood as excessive feelings of apprehension towards difference.
Xenophobia can often go hand in hand with racism. Plenty of events in world history are exemplary of how individuals or groups have internalized Xenophobic thought processes including:
- the Jewish Holocaust
- the colonization of the Americas
- the attempt of ethnic cleansing in Rwanda which resulted in the genocide of thousands of Tutsis people
- Human zoo exhibits from Africa, the Philippines, and tribal pygmies
- The detrimental caste system in India
These examples of events in history reveal the ways in which Xenophobia has the potential to operate within individuals or groups. When the fear of difference (i.e, race, culture, social class) becomes heavily internalized, it can lead to drastic situations where certain groups determine their superiority over another. Considering the current pandemic, many people have acted in alarming ways due to panic and hysteria.
There are less drastic cases of people fearing the unknown, including the fear of darkness. While it may not be the actual shadows or blackness, people can become apprehensive about what that darkness is concealing, of what unknown thing lurks behind the shadows- sometimes to the point where it becomes difficult to cope or function.
Ultimately, the fear of the unknown can have severe impacts on people or situations. So, how can we work to overcome this phobia? How is it possible to restructure our ways of thinking to experience life without being held back by our unease or consternation?
Actively working to become more self-aware can benefit individuals, as finding the source of their fear can lead to a better understanding of what it is that is making them feel this way. You may have heard the saying, “mindless fear is greater than mindful fear.” Essentially, not knowing what you are afraid of can have more severe implications on your life and the ways in which you interact with others or things. Trying to give a name to what it is that makes you nervous, whether it is a cultural norm or religious practice, is a vital step towards personally addressing the conflict at hand. Recognizing that you are afraid, even if you are unsure of what it is exactly that you are afraid of, is an important first step.
Understanding Fear in General
Fear is a part of human nature and is an instinct typically served to protect people from potential threats. It is normal to feel a certain degree of unease, however when it becomes debilitating or begins to have negative impacts on a person’s life, one of the most pertinent things about overcoming any obstacle is digging for details. Gaining background knowledge can help to seek out the root causes of your fear, and can aid you in finding community. When you feel alone in your fear, it can often make things worse. Recognizing that it is not uncommon or bizarre to feel a certain type of way towards something can help to alieve some of the stress put on the body and mind when you are constantly on edge about something. Actively doing some research on what it is that is causing unrest can help you regain some confidence in yourself and can benefit your everyday life going forward. Education is a powerful tool that can help you learn, grow, and overcome as an individual.
Confiding and Building a Support System
In addition to becoming more aware of your own phobias, turning to someone you trust and sharing your struggles can be very beneficial. As social creatures, relationships are essential to people in every area of their life and overall well-being. If you have someone that you are comfortable sharing personal information with, talking through your issues or anxieties can help alleviate some of the pressures that come with being afraid.
Seeking Professional Help
There is only so much an individual can do for themselves when coming to terms with and managing their fear, especially when such feelings become more severe. For those with access to professional care, making an appointment with your doctor and discussing your elevated nerves with them can aid in coming to more immediate solutions. Depending on the case, doctors can refer you to specialists, therapists or psychiatrists for further counselling, and sometimes they can prescribe certain medications. Often excessive fear can result in extreme anxiety or depression, and there are plenty of medications that can work to alleviate the psychological stress you may be going through, all while being monitored by healthcare professionals to ensure that it is having the proper effects and helping your wellbeing.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Taking five to ten minutes out of your day to practice mindfulness can have extreme benefits. Sitting down in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, focusing on your breathing, and allowing your mind to be grounded in the present moment can help to prevent your thoughts from racing and can calm your nerves. Meditation is an old practice in which many studies and research has proven to benefit people’s overall wellbeing greatly.
Diet and Exercise
Mental health is tied to our physical health, and making sure you maintain a healthy lifestyle both with the foods you eat and the amount of exercise you partake in can help to see quick results. Being careful of what you put into your body can aid in overall hormonal and chemical balance within the brain, which simultaneously works to reduce anxiety, stress and can help you feel more in control of your everyday life.
Essentially, the fear of the unknown can be an incredibly difficult obstacle that many individual’s face. It can have extreme impacts on people’s lives and can make people feel helpless. By acknowledging, educating, and focusing on personal growth, we can work towards overcoming such challenges and experiencing all that life must offer.