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  • Melissa Sims

Fear, Change, and the Unknown.

Fear, Change, and the Unknown

While this title likely sounds like a dystopian novel, fraught with drama and suspense, this is just a snippet of every day life. 

We have all been dealing with uncertainty over the last several years, as it kind of just feels like something terrible is just around the corner. And with valid reason - we’ve been smacked over and over again with change that we were woefully ill prepared for. Even though change is happening much more rapidly than it ever has, it is an integral part of life; yet it's something many of us fear deeply. This fear stems not just from the change itself, but from the uncertainty surrounding it, and from our perception of its potential impacts—perceptions that are often far removed from reality. 

I remember feeling this way when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I was not married at the time, but in a serious relationship. A relationship in which I had told my partner that I wasn’t able to have children, which I found out at 18 years old when I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis. I had been visiting the gynecologist for a cyst issue and was awaiting test results when she burst into the exam room with a very excited “guess what?” I thought she was a bit crazy for being this excited about a cyst shrinking, but instead she told me I was pregnant. 

Shock and confusion were my first reaction, followed by a massive amount of anxiety. I was 24 at the time, not married, and had really never given being a mother any consideration. This is when the freight train of anxious and negative thoughts came barreling through. “This is impossible.” “She’s wrong.” “I am not supposed to be a mom.” “How am I going to tell him?” “He is going to think I was lying all this time just to trap him.” “He won’t want kids.” “I’m going to be a single mother at 24!” “Will he leave me?” “What if I am not meant to be a mom?” “What's my boss going to say?” You can imagine the rest of the thoughts that came after this. Hours upon hours, then days upon days were spent, completely stressing myself out by laying out every possible scenario, the reactions, all of it. How ridiculous, now that I can look back on it. 

So what happened? I went to him, about a week later, and told him I had the appointment and let him know exactly how it went. I even apologized! He laughed, told me that there was absolutely nothing to be sorry about, told me he couldn’t wait to be a father! He said he was so happy that the doctors were wrong when I was 18, and that he couldn’t wait to spend the rest of his life with me. It was a beautiful moment that I had worked into this massive storm in my head. Thanks, brain. We have been together for 23 years and have two children with the most beautiful souls. I couldn’t be more grateful. But wow - that could have played out much better! 

History is rife with examples where the fear of change and the unknown was far more painful than the change itself. Take the The Y2K Bug, for example. As the new millennium approached, the world was gripped by the fear of a computer flaw that was expected to cause widespread chaos by misinterpreting the year 2000 as 1900. Predictions ranged from minor glitches to catastrophic failures in banking systems, power grids, and other critical infrastructure. Billions were spent in preparation and mitigation efforts. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, the anticipated apocalypse failed to materialize. This event stands as a stark reminder of how fear, amplified by speculative stories, can dwarf the reality of the situation.

Going further back in history, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century was met with fear and resistance by many, particularly from those in positions of power who controlled the flow of information. There were concerns that this technology would spread heretical ideas and undermine social order. In reality, the printing press facilitated the spread of knowledge, contributing to significant advancements in science, education, and democracy. The fear of change obscured the potential for positive transformation.

Going even further back in history, The Industrial Revolution caused widespread fear. The transition to new manufacturing processes in the 18th and 19th centuries was a period of great anxiety and uncertainty. Many feared the loss of jobs to machines and the possible social upheaval that could follow. While the Industrial Revolution did bring about significant economic and social changes, it also led to improvements in living standards, productivity, and the creation of new job sectors. The initial fears, though not entirely unfounded, were often exaggerated compared to the long-term benefits.

Techniques to Calm Fears and Embrace Possibilities

Mindfulness and Present Moment Awareness: Fear of change is rooted in future-oriented thinking, where we conjure up worst-case scenarios. Mindfulness practices encourage living in the present moment, reducing anxiety about the future. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and focusing on the sensory experiences of the present can help ground our thoughts, making the unknown less daunting.

Reframing the Narrative: Our thoughts shape our reality. By consciously changing the narrative from one of fear to one of opportunity, we can shift our perception of change. Ask yourself, "What positive outcomes could result from this change?" This approach doesn't deny the presence of risks but balances them with potential gains, fostering a more optimistic outlook.

Gradual Exposure: Fear often diminishes with familiarity. Gradually exposing oneself to the aspects of change can reduce anxiety. Start with small steps, gather information, and get comfortable with minor changes before tackling more significant ones. This technique helps build confidence and resilience, making the process of adaptation less intimidating.

History has shown us time and again that our fears of change and the unknown are often more paralyzing than the change itself. Understanding how our apprehensions often overshadow reality can prevent us from going down the story spiral. Just as we teach in our compassionate communication courses, when fear is in the driver’s seat, facts are distorted, a willingness to listen evaporates, and doubt creeps in. We must not let our fears control us. By adopting techniques such as mindfulness, reframing our narrative, and gradual exposure, we can learn to navigate our fears, opening ourselves up to the endless possibilities that change can bring. Embracing change is not about dismissing the risks but about recognizing the potential for growth and development it presents.


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