Although most of us realize that change is the only constant in our lives, we can still struggle to cope. Many people actually develop intense fears related to change (also known as metathesiophobia), but the prospect of something new does not have to feel frightening. There are several ways to cope with and overcome a fear of change, including therapy, shifting your thinking, planning ahead, and seeking support.
Why Are People Afraid of Change?
We are naturally prone to feel scared and worried about things that represent uncertainty, push us out of our comfort zone, or are beyond our control. All types of change—big, small, sudden, expected, positive, or negative—require some mental adjustment. The truth is, we find comfort and security in routine, even if we also think it’s boring.1,2 And for some, their fear of change will be closely linked to their fear of the unknown, or even a deeper existential crisis in the face of a big change.
What Causes a Fear of Change?
A combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and other biological and environmental elements can contribute to the development of an irrational fear or phobia related to change.3
Common causes of a fear of change include:5,2
- Being raised in an environment where change was seen as a threat
- Genetic factors or having a close relative with fear or phobia
- Distressful childhood experiences related to change
- Self-doubt, self-criticism, and feeling insecure about adjusting well to changes
- Feeling a loss of control
Signs of Fear of Change
People who are overpowered by a fear of change are more likely to cope by avoiding new situations. They often lack interest in exploring new things, and may be reluctant to achieve goals or improve their situation. They even might find themselves stuck in toxic relationships or jobs they don’t like, which can bring about stress, anxiety, pain, depression, and a lack of energy.5,2
Signs that you or a loved one have a deep fear of change include:
- An immediate feeling of intense fear and anxiety about new situations or change
- Awareness that the fear is irrational but an inability to control it
- Increased anticipatory anxiety as the change approaches
- Going to great lengths to avoid change; so much so that it interferes with your personal or professional life
- When the situation cannot be avoided, it is endured with intense fear and anxiety
- Panic attacks with symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, or shortness of breath
If you’re experiencing these symptoms in an intense or sustained way and seeing negative consequences in your life as a result, you may be living with a specific phobia and could benefit from working with a therapist.
10 Ways to Overcome the Fear of Change
If you’re scared of change, there are ways to adjust, including seeking professional help, gathering the facts, having a plan in place, shifting your outlook, reflecting on past experiences, building resilience, cultivating optimism, and having a strong support system in place.
Here are ten ways to overcome being scared of change:
1. Seek Professional Help
If you need support to deal with your fear of change, consider psychotherapy. By talking to a therapist, you will be able to effectively manage difficult emotions and get the help you need to face your fears. More importantly, therapy can provide a safe space to talk through struggles, express your feelings freely, and identify unhealthy responses. In collaboration with your counselor or therapist, you will learn effective coping skills and ways to reframe your situation so you can healthily adjust to change.3,6
2. Get the Facts
We typically fear change because it means that we don’t know the outcome. Understanding why change is necessary and where your anxiety comes from may be a good place to start on the journey to relieve fear. Gather information and facts regarding the change — what do you need to know? What steps do you need to take? What should you realistically expect? By clarifying doubts, you can gain a sense of certainty.1
3. Embrace the Change
Acceptance doesn’t mean you are complacent; it simply means being aware of your reality. This can bring you peace of mind and make it easier to cope. Not only does resisting change make it harder to deal with, but it also prevents you from realizing whether it might be a good change after all. The better you understand how to confront the fear of change, the more emotionally resilient you will be.1
4. How Did I Do It Before?
Reflect on past experiences and remind yourself about transitions and hardships you’ve already overcome. Even if you believe you failed, chances are you became a stronger person as a result. Ask yourself: what lessons did I learn? What specifically helped me to bounce back? What traits do I possess that allowed me to deal with the change? Through this self-examination, you may come to realize that you are stronger than you think.1
5. Don’t Overthink It
Uncertainty or the thought of losing what’s familiar can be paralyzing, but overthinking and over-worrying can make things more difficult than they really are. Instead of overthinking, ground yourself in the present moment and make decisions based on what is right in front of you. Narrowing things down can lessen the mental stress of decision-making and set things in positive forward motion. It may take awhile, but eventually you will see that the situation wasn’t as bad as you first thought.1
6. Cultivate Optimism
Transform your negative thoughts into positive-self talk and affirmations. Envision your future with optimism, challenge your own mental hurdles, and try to see the world from a different angle. Fostering mental and emotional positivism can really make a difference in overcoming fear of change and bouncing back from adverse circumstances.1
7. Have a Plan
If you know that there may be an upcoming change, take a proactive approach and set the stage. Think about what it is going to look like for you and prepare for any obstacle you may encounter along the way. Focus on areas where you have some say and let go of things that are beyond your control. Look for alternatives, ask for advice, and have a back-up plan in place. Change can feel less terrifying when you know where you stand.
8. Start Practicing
Take preventive measures and lessen your fear of change by training your brain. Start practicing by making tiny adjustments in your daily regimen. Take small risks by introducing new things into your life such as learning a new language, exploring different foods, or taking an alternate route to work. Regularly practicing new habits that break basic routines will enhance your flexibility and adaptability to changes.1
9. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Build an inner reserve of resiliency by maintaining adequate sleep, getting proper nutrition, and doing some sort of regular physical activity. Pay attention to your stress levels and introduce moments of calmness into your day through meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises. Also, partake in self-nurturing activities like reading, listening to music, and laughing with friends.1
10. Have a Support System in Place
Look to trusted friends and family as appropriate resources for guidance, support, information, and ideas. At the very least, they can help uplift your mood, ease your worries, and bring a fresh perspective. Being in an environment where you feel nurtured and validated is essential to your overall well-being.1
When to Get Professional Help for Fear of Change
If your normal fear of change turns into a full-blown phobia (called metathesiophobia), it may require professional help. Although this phobia is not listed in the DSM-5, it would likely be classified as a “specific phobia.” As such, metathesiophobia can be defined as a persistent, irrational, and intense fear of change interfering with someone’s ability to function.3,5
If you feel so distressed by your excessive dread of change that you keep putting your life on hold or avoiding meaningful endeavors, you should consult with a mental health expert for an evaluation and possible treatment. Many people tend to delay seeking treatment and wait until their fear gets out of control; however, treating your metathesiophobia early on is crucial in preventing further damage to your overall well-being.4,6
Who Should I Consult for Help in Overcoming Fear of Change?
When seeking professional help for a fear of change, your primary care physician (PCP) can provide references. You can also reach out directly to a fear-related mental health expert to assess the severity of your symptoms.
Whether online or in-person, the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach is often a first line of treatment for reducing anxiety. A CBT-trained therapist can help you manage the automatic faulty thoughts that trigger fear-based responses, teaching you to gradually shift your thinking and overcome your fear.6
You might also consider exposure-based therapy, a fear-reducing technique that can lead to improvements for people with specific phobias in fewer sessions. Exposure therapy involves confronting the feared situation in a methodical and controlled manner for a period of time until you establish that the dreaded outcome does not occur. Exposure treatments may be provided in individual or group settings, with or without the help of a therapist, or via electronic devices like video webcams.6
How to Find a Therapist
Begin your search for a therapist in an online mental health directory like Choosing Therapy where you can filter your preferences and specific needs to find the right fit. If preferred, your doctor should also be able to provide a list of references to an appropriate mental health professional.
Once in counseling, you can expect to see favorable outcomes in about 4-10 weeks. However, this depends on the severity of your symptoms, whether you regularly attend sessions, and your overall willingness to improve.6 The cost per session can range from $50 to $150, but if your insurance provider covers behavioral health, the out-of-pocket costs per session may be much lower.