Worrying about the future | Advice for Young People | Jigsaw

Worrying about the future

Worrying about the future

Monday, 06 July 2020

The future and how we feel about it can make us feel overwhelmed, either by the amount of choice, or lack of it.

Thinking about ‘the future’, some people have a very clear map of what road they hope to take. Others are less certain. A global pandemic like something out of a dystopian film that few could have predicted adds a whole other level of concerns about what any of our futures may hold.

We may experience a range of emotions including confusion, frustration, anger or sadness.

A young man looking into the distance with his airpods in

Why do we worry about the future?

Many young people who come to Jigsaw have concerns about the future that have a significant impact on their mental health. Some of the things causing people concern when they think about the future include:

  • What lies ahead during a pandemic- So much was cancelled last year and this year is looking a bit same-y so far. The Leaving Cert, the Junior Cert, college exams, in class or campus learning, jobs, birthday parties, holidays, gigs…the list goes on. It is hard to know how to plan right now or how to be prepared.
  • Changes within the family environment- Such as a new step-parent, or the birth of a new sibling. Uncertainty and fear of being displaced or rejected in some way can be a cause of anxiety.
  • Someone close to them dying- Previous experience of bereavement can lead to feelings of panic or anxiety.
  • Parents separating- In some cases, it can come as a shock to know that your parents were unhappy, and lead to mistrust and uncertainty about your role in the family.
  • Uncertainty about what to do- Some young people feel pressure to get a job rather than go to college. While others feel they have no option other than to do a university course. Areas with low employment can force young people away when they might prefer to stay.
  • Eco-anxiety- Increased focus on climate change can be a great source of anxiety for some young people. They can feel powerless and cheated about the state of the environment.

Why do we have these worries?

The future can seem quite negative due to certain events and situations around the world, the impact of coronavirus, lack of jobs, high cost of living. Stories about these come in our news feeds 24/7. It’s hardly surprising that we start to feel anxious about what the future may hold. We might imagine the world is never going to be the same, or there is never going to be safety or certainty.

The drive for ‘achievements’; academic or economic success can be overwhelming if we feel every decision can impact our entire life.

Making choices

The need to make the right choice first time can be paralysing. Sometimes we may feel we don’t fit in with the society we’re living in. We may have different values to our peers. If we see friends going off to college or embarking on ‘high-flying’ careers we may feel left behind. Looking at other people’s ‘perfect’ lives on social media can make us feel like we lack a future, as we have fewer opportunities. We can begin to believe we are a total failure and that can be really debilitating.

How to stop worrying about the future

Our future is unknown to an extent. There are no quick fixes to make it feel certain or safe. Concerns about the future can often be understandable in the context we are living in, although, they are not always helpful. Talking it through with someone can be. They don’t need to have the answers, but saying things aloud can help clarify feelings and where you can focus your energy.

Focus on the present

It is good to think about the future and where you might be going. It is equally important to focus on what is going on right now. Practising mindfulness can help with bringing your attention to the present. Apps such as Headspace, Smiling Minds, WorryTime or Calm might help with this.

Be aware of the ‘when/then’ game

Have you found yourself saying ‘when X happens, then I’ll feel Y’. For example; ‘when I move out of home, then I’ll be able to be myself’; ‘when I get the job I want, then I’ll feel more confident’. If we are constantly thinking like this, it can be difficult to enjoy life in the present. Take notice when you are playing the ‘when/then’ game and see if you can start working on the ‘then’ part now!

Instead of worrying about the future, bring your attention to things you can control.

Separate out the things within and not in your control

At different points in our lives there are some things we have little to no control over. For example, we can’t control how many points will be required for a particular college course. But we can focus on doing the best we can at school.

Give yourself permission to get it wrong

Indecisiveness can be paralysing. Sometimes that mindset can push us towards not being able to make a decision. Once a decision is made, we have no way of knowing whether the alternative choice would have been better or worse. Try something for a while and if it doesn’t work out, learn from the experience.

Whose concern is it?

At times we can carry the weight of expectation of our family, school or even our community. Our society shapes our view of the world and what it means to be a ‘success’. This can influence or shape the way we view an issue or decision in relation to the future. The ‘ideal’ ways of living we see on social media, which are virtually impossible, can increase our feelings of inadequacy. Step back from this, and try to figure out what you want, not what your family, friends or others want.

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