People who fear the unknown may experience anxiety and distress, particularly if they lack information or control. Therapy aims to help confront a person’s fears surrounding uncertain situations.

Uncertainty is part of everyone’s life. People who fear the unknown may find it emotionally difficult when they experience uncertainty.

They may also try hard to seek certainty. The fear of the unknown has links to phobias, fears, and anxieties. How someone reacts to uncertainty depends on many factors, including individual coping strategies or the intensity of their fear.

This article will review the fear of the unknown, its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and how a person may cope with it.

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Fear of the unknown refers to anxiety around unpredictable situations or events. It can also link to things that people find unfamiliar or strange. Individuals are likely to experience fear of the unknown when there is a lack of information. Another name for the condition is intolerance of uncertainty.

Someone who has a fear of the unknown may:

  • have negative feelings toward uncertain situations or events
  • process information in a biased way, particularly in ambiguous situations
  • view uncertainty to be threatening

Like many fears, the symptoms can vary between people. This phobia type can cause physical and psychological symptoms, including panic attacks.

Physical symptoms, most of which relate to having panic attacks, may include:

Some psychological symptoms may include:

Several factors may cause a fear of the unknown. Phobias can develop at any point between childhood and early adulthood. Additionally, people may develop a fear of the unknown after a negative experience in childhood that may have caused psychological trauma.

Children may develop a fear of the unknown if one or both parents are particularly anxious about the unknown and uncertainty. Seeing how parents cope with anxiety or stressful situations can affect how someone reacts in similar situations.

Still, doctors do not fully understand the exact cause of the fear of the unknown, so more research in this area is necessary.

Constantly or regularly experiencing fear of the unknown disrupts a person’s life and may cause other health problems. People with this condition may imagine worst-case scenarios and catastrophize most things that happen in their lives.

If someone experiences fear of the unknown frequently or feels it is negatively affecting their life, they can consider contacting a doctor. A mental health care specialist can recommend the most appropriate treatment for fear of the unknown and provide tips for coping.

Several treatment options may help people who fear the unknown improve their symptoms, including self-help strategies, counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Self-help strategies

Several strategies and lifestyle changes may help those who fear the unknown cope and improve their symptoms. This may include:


Counseling can help someone confront their fear of unpredictable situations. Mental health care specialists can work with the person to understand the fear and develop strategies to help deal with uncertain or stressful situations. Counseling methods aim to challenge people’s negative beliefs and alter how they think or feel about uncertainty.

There are different counseling formats, including face-to-face, group, or phone sessions. Individuals can choose the type they feel most comfortable with.


CBT can help people change how they behave or think in response to certain stimuli that may trigger fear. During sessions, a therapist may gradually expose a person to the unknown, which is known as exposure therapy. This may help address the causes of their fear and reduce the anxiety surrounding uncertain situations.

Learn more about CBT.

People may find it difficult to cope with the fear of the unknown. The American Psychological Association suggests some strategies that may help people cope, including:

  • avoiding dwelling on things beyond their control
  • accepting that everyone has differing tolerances of the unknown
  • practicing self-care, eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep
  • limiting exposure to news
  • learning new skills to increase self-confidence
  • reaching out to friends and family for support
  • seeking help from a mental health care specialist, such as a therapist or psychologist
  • focusing on things they can control
  • reflecting on past events that caused stress and how they overcame them

People may experience a fear of the unknown when they experience uncertain or unpredictable situations, which may trigger anxiety and distress. In some cases, those who fear the unknown may also experience panic attacks.

Seeking help can reduce the negative effects relating to the fear of the unknown. Some treatment options include CBT and counseling. Additionally, joining support groups or seeking comfort from family and friends can help someone cope with the fear of the unknown.