How to Deal with Anxiety of the Unknown

I’ve never liked the unknown. Some might say I’m controlling, but I’m just more comfortable with setting a strategy and committing to it.

But life doesn’t always move in such a deliberate way.

As I write this article, I am days away from rotator cuff surgery. It seems to be a straightforward and common procedure. But these descriptions feel way more abstract than what I’m experiencing right now.

I’m not worried about the surgery itself. I have a wonderful doctor who specializes in this surgery. That aspect feels very concrete and sure. It’s what comes after that has me feeling anxious.

As someone who does strategic planning for a living, winging it isn’t my first instinct. Yet a lot of what I’ll experience over the coming weeks is unknown to me. I can’t know now how intense or lengthy the pain may be. I can’t know how quickly I’ll resume normal routines and work.

In other words, I can’t build a plan for it. So, how do I alleviate my anxiety over what I don’t know? I turn to the three-step process below.

1. Address the Anxiety

When I feel troubled by the unknowns, I go to the most solid thing in my world to address my feelings head on — always my first stop toward less stress. For me, it’s my faith. I know whatever the outcome, it will be for my highest good. It may not be fun or always pleasant, but I do absolutely believe it’s for my good.

Your “rock” may be different. Faith is a common one, but for you it may be a tradition, the earth, or your health. It doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s a solid foundation for you, build on it.

2. Visualize Yourself Dealing with Your Worry

Next, imagine yourself sitting on or with your images or ideas of strength and stability. Let yourself feel what it is they symbolize to you.

For me, I am imagining the surgery, then infusing that vision with divine energy. I draw on all its attributes: Love, compassion, comfort, intelligence. I affirm a highly qualified medical staff. I affirm a successful procedure. And I affirm an easy recovery.

You might imagine yourself participating in your favorite tradition. Or you might sit on the ground, feeling its life while thinking about your troubling unknown. Ask what might this solid supporter say to you? What advice might it give you?

The goal is to flood our thoughts and emotions with the goodness of our “rock” to help us release this stress and imagine a more positive outcome than our fears allow.

One of my teachers always said, “Fear is always in the future — unless your house is currently on fire.” By bringing ourselves back into the present moment, part of the fear naturally and almost automatically lessens.

Right now, we are safe. Right now, I’m not in extreme pain. Right now, what can you be grateful for, related to your fear?

3. Choose Your Next Step Away from the Fear

From that place of gratitude, let yourself feel or think of a next step you can take. Yes, right now you may have a little Zen vibe going. But what about when you’ve laid this article aside — what will you do to help yourself overcome the anxiety?

For me, I’m going to get busy preparing the house for my recovery. Having something to do helps me move through the uncertainty.

To recap, here’s what I do when the fear of the unknown has me jittery:

  • I connect to what’s most solid for me.
  • I imagine it easing my worry.
  • I decide on a next step.


Repeat these steps any time you feel yourself feeling anxious or sinking into fear or negativity. It takes practice, but I know from personal experience it works. I snap back much more quickly from stresses than I used to. You will too!

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