People often experience uneasiness or fear over change. However, when this fear becomes more severe, it is known as metathesiophobia. This fear can become paralyzing and be difficult for a person to live with.

A certain amount of anxiety and fear is a natural part of life. It can help tell a person when a situation is not right or dangerous.

However, an extreme fear of change can keep a person from doing things they want or need to do. For example, an individual may avoid new situations or major life changes.

This article further explains the fear of change, including what can cause this fear, the signs, and when it may be an issue. It also describes tips for coping, treatment options, and when a person may need to seek professional help for a fear of change.

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An article from 2002 explains that while fear and anxiety share similarities, they are separate emotional states.

The article points out that fear can result in various avoidant and defensive behaviors. These behaviors are often aimed at escaping from the motivational conflict or danger involved.

Experts explain

Rod Mitchell, a registered psychologist and founder of Therapy Calgary, spoke with Medical News Today about the fear of change.

“Fear of change is our brain’s natural way of reacting to new and unfamiliar situations,” he said. “This fear comes from not knowing what to expect and worrying about our ability to cope with the outcome. It’s a basic survival instinct that helps keep us safe by encouraging us to stick to what we know.”

“However,” he continued, “when this fear becomes too intense, it can stop us from growing and adapting to new circumstances. This intense fear of change is known as metathesiophobia, and it can significantly hinder our personal development and achievement.”

Dr. Menije Boduryan-Turner, a licensed psychologist and founder of Embracing You Therapy in California, also spoke with Medical News Today about this topic:

Planned and unplanned change

“What’s unique and complicated about this type of anxiety and fear is that it can be triggered in response to both positive [and] negative change, planned versus unplanned. We may find ourselves feeling the same level of fear and anxiety toward a change we pursued, such as the time we started a new job, versus an unexpected change, such as a break up instigated by the other person.”

– Dr. Menije

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Learn more about phobias.

There are various possible causes of a fear of change.

Discomfort with uncertainty

Dr. Menije told us: “The biggest cause of fear around change is uncertainty. We automatically become increasingly fearful and anxious in the face of the unknown and uncertainty. Even if we can predict what the change will look like, as long as it is different than what we currently have or how we currently live, it will trigger fear.”

Catastrophic thinking

“It is important to add that our fear of change is multiplied by our catastrophic thinking. We often respond to the unknown with negative thinking, where we entertain the worst-case scenarios. We often think about all the ways it could be hard or challenging for us — all the ways it may not work out. These types of negative thoughts exacerbate the fear of change.”

– Dr. Menije

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Other potential contributing factors

Mitchell expands on the possible causes of this fear.

Past experiences

Past experiences can play a significant role in developing a fear of change. For example, if someone has experienced a sudden job loss that led to financial hardship, the memory of this event can create a lasting fear of any career-related changes.

The brain learns to associate new situations with danger and risk, making it challenging to approach future changes optimistically.

Biological wiring

Our biological predisposition to resist change is deeply rooted in survival instincts. For our ancient ancestors, everyday decisions such as exploring new areas for resources came with life threatening risks.

This evolutionary trait ensured caution and vigilance, favoring familiar over unfamiliar paths to increase the chances of survival. In modern times, the risks associated with change are rarely life threatening, but our brains still respond with caution to the unfamiliar.

Loss of control

Change often involves variables and outcomes that we cannot fully predict or control, which can be deeply unsettling for individuals who value stability and certainty. The prospect of not being able to manage the process or outcome of change can lead to avoidance and a preference for the status quo, even when it is not fulfilling.

Dr. Menije stated that the main sign a person may be experiencing a fear of change is avoidance. She noted that people are wired to avoid things they are afraid of.

She and Mitchell expanded on the possible signs of a fear of change, including:

  • Rumination: If a person cannot stop a change from occurring or has autonomously pursued a change, fear will still show up in the form of overthinking and rumination.
  • Panic: A person may feel dread or panic at the idea of changing their usual routines.
  • Indecision: Someone may become overwhelmed or indecisive over even minor changes.
  • Dismissiveness: This involves reflexively dismissing new ideas or opportunities, even when there is little risk.
  • Overavoidance: A person may consistently avoid change due to a fear of the unknown, even if they are unhappy with their current situation.

Physical symptoms

People might experience symptoms of stress and anxiety when thinking about making changes. For example, rumination and overthinking can lead a person to experience:

The fear of change can become an issue when it stops a person from pursuing opportunities or making important changes in their life.

Dr. Menije had this to say: “Fear of change is a problem if it stops you from asserting your needs, setting your boundaries, and being your authentic self around others. For example, in relationships, ‘people pleasers’ are known to avoid rocking the boat due to fear of change.”

“In [codependent] relationships, there is a saying that one would rather be in a bad relationship than none at all,” she continued. “Our fear of change, which, in this instance, ends a relationship, is so big that it could cause some people to stay in a bad relationship for too long.”

Other possible signs

Dr. Menije told us that “the fear of change also becomes detrimental when it stops you from pursuing your dreams. People become so afraid of failing or making mistakes that they would never move out of their comfort zone. Hence [they] never make a change.”

When fear becomes a problem

“Fear of change becomes a problem when it significantly impedes your ability to grow, adapt, or pursue meaningful opportunities.”

– Rod Mitchell

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Rod Mitchell lists the following indicators that an individual’s fear of change may be becoming an issue:

  • they find themselves in a cycle of regret, frequently looking back at missed opportunities that a fear of change kept them from pursuing
  • they experience chronic unhappiness or frustration with their current situation but have severe difficulty initiating any changes due to overwhelming fear or anxiety
  • their relationships begin to be affected negatively because the fear of change prevents them from moving forward with shared goals or adapting to necessary adjustments

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) suggests a person try the following to help them face a fear:

  • when feeling relaxed, think about the fear and how they feel when faced with it
  • gradually expose themselves to the thing they are afraid of to change the way they view that fear
  • allow themselves to feel the fear and try to face the situation without a typical distraction or coping mechanism

The NHS states that it is important for people not to force themselves to rush. Facing fear and coping with it can take time.

Specific tips

Mitchell expands on this with steps aimed specifically at addressing a fear of change:

Make “micro-changes”

This involves incorporating tiny, manageable adjustments into a daily routine.

A person might try the following:

  • swapping their morning coffee for tea
  • taking a different route on a walk or journey
  • rearranging their workspace

These small shifts can acclimate the mind to the concept of change being a regular and manageable part of life.

Become a “fear detective”

A person can try dedicating time to uncover the roots of their fear.

They may wish to journal about times when they felt this fear intensely and try to identify patterns by asking themselves what triggered it and how they responded. Understanding the ‘why’ behind a fear can make it less intimidating and more manageable.

Try grounding into the moment

People can practice mindfulness techniques to anchor themselves in the present. When worries about change creep in, they can try focusing on their breath. This can help break the cycle of future-focused anxiety and bring a person back to the now.

Build a support system

A person may be able to surround themselves with people who uplift and encourage them. This could mean forming a small support group with friends who also seek growth or finding a mentor who has navigated similar changes. Knowing they are not alone in this journey can make a significant difference.

Naming and validating

“The first thing is to always name the emotion we are having so that we can address it properly. Once you name it, you also want to self-validate by reminding yourself that this is a universally shared experience. We always want to handle our fears with compassion. This doesn’t mean we enable our fears — self-compassion is simply giving ourselves empathy and support.”

– Dr. Menije

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Dr. Menije points out that it is natural for a person to experience a fear of change from time to time.

However, if this fear becomes an issue, people may want to seek help from a mental health professional to manage their fear of change and potentially overcome it.

Mitchell lists the following factors that may lead a person to need professional help to overcome their fear:

  • Life disruption: If fear is so overwhelming that it disrupts a person’s daily activities or hampers their ability to make decisions, it is best to seek help.
  • Persistent negative emotions: A person who is constantly feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed about the prospect of change could benefit from professional intervention to provide relief.
  • Missed opportunities: If the fear of change is leading someone to avoid meaningful relationships or career advancements that they would like to pursue, this is a clear sign that external support could be beneficial.
  • Ineffectiveness of self-help: When other strategies a person has tried to reduce their fear, such as reading self-help books or trying relaxation techniques, have not helped, a professional may be able to offer more personalized and effective approaches.

Seeking professional help can give people the tools they need to manage and even overcome their fears.

A personalized approach

“The journey to overcome a fear of change is deeply personal, and the effectiveness of different therapeutic approaches can vary greatly depending on the root cause of your fear. Just as the fear itself is not a one-size-fits-all experience, the path to managing and overcoming it requires a personalized approach that addresses specific underlying factors.”

– Rod Mitchell

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Some therapies that may help a person to manage or overcome their fear of change include:

An individual can work with a mental health professional to find the most effective treatment option for their circumstances.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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A fear of change is often a natural part of life. People typically experience anxiety about change because they fear the unknown.

However, a fear of change can become an issue if it keeps a person from seeking out opportunities they want to pursue or making necessary changes in their life. It can also affect relationships if it becomes a chronic issue.

If a person is experiencing a fear of change that is affecting their daily life or causing them to avoid situations that may lead to positive change, a mental health professional can help.