Worrying about the future

Worrying about the future

Monday, 06 September 2021

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

Being worried about the future is not uncommon. Some people have a very clear map of what road they hope to take. Others are less certain.

Few could have predicted the pandemic and how that has affected our immediate future.

When thinking about the future, we may experience a range of emotions including confusion, frustration, anger or sadness.

What you’ll find in this article

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Why do we worry about the future?

At Jigsaw, we work with many young people who have concerns about the future. This can have a significant impact on their mental health. Some of these include:

  • Life after a pandemic– So much has changed for us in the last two years. The adjustment of getting back to “normal” has been quite overwhelming at times. 
  •  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 cause anxiety.
  •  Loss of a loved one– When grieving someone close to us, considering the future can understandably fill us with feelings of panic or anxiety.
  •  Parents separating– Sometimes, it can come as a shock to know your parents were unhappy. This can lead to mistrust and uncertainty about your role in the family.
  •  Uncertainty about what to do– Get a job or go to college? What course to choose? It’s not as simple as just making a decision for some young people. There can be many barriers to the job market or further education.
  • Money, employment, and housing– Every day there are news stories about the difficulties for young people finding a place to live. Young people were also disproportionately impacted by unemployment as a result of the pandemic. This can greatly impact your outlook about the future. 
  • Climate change– This is a real source of anxiety for many 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. These include the impact of coronavirus, world conflict, lack of jobs and high cost of living.

Stories about these fill our news feeds 24/7. It’s hardly surprising we start to feel anxious about what the future may hold. We might imagine the world will never be the same, or there is never going to be safety and certainty.

Seven young people cross the road together.

Drive for achievement and success

The constant drive for ‘achievements’ like social, academic or financial success can be overwhelming. We may feel every decision can impact our entire life.

Making choices

Feeling the need to make the right choice the first time can be paralysing. Or maybe you feel others have more options available to them than you do, which can be just as tough.

Sometimes we may feel we don’t fit in with the society we’re living in. We may have different values from our peers, and therefore feel drawn to different options than them. If we see friends going off to college or embarking on ‘high-flying’ careers, we may feel left behind.

Seeing other people’s ‘perfect’ lives on social media can make us feel that we lack a future. This could be because we chose differently to them, or because 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 identify where you can focus your energy.

Focus on the present

Thinking about the future and where you might be going is a good thing. It is equally important to focus on what’s 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.
  • When I get into a relationship, then I’ll be happier.

Constantly thinking like this, makes it difficult to enjoy life in the present. Take notice when playing the ‘when/then’ game. See if you can start working on the ‘then’ part now!

Focus on what you can control

Instead of worrying about the future, focus on things you can control.

A hand-drawn spider-diagram for planning a future event. The words 'Planning Sesh' are written in the middle, and surrounding it are different words and pictures in different colours.

Separate out the things within and not in your control

There are some things in life that 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’ve 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 expectations of our family, school, or even community. Our society shapes our view of the world and what it means to be a ‘success’. This can shape the way we view an issue or decision about the future.

The ‘ideal’ ways of living we see on social media are virtually impossible for most. They can also increase feelings of inadequacy. Step back from this, and figure out what you want – not what your family, friends, or others want.

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