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Why am I afraid of change and uncertainty?

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Every transformation is a step into the unknown

At the heart of most cases of chronic stress and/or burnout that I see in my clients is a struggle to adapt to the ever-changing nature of existence.

As mentioned before, in some cases, an external trigger can be identified and changed or removed and the stress goes away.

But this the exception rather than the norm. If stress is repeated chronically with or without leading to Burnout, it is because of a pattern of mindset, belief and behaviour.

Each client comes with their specific patterns and beliefs, which are connected to their childhood and life experiences.

But behind all of these usually lies a common fear. The fear of uncertainty and of losing control.

Your brain and nervous system prioritise safety

In order to keep you alive, evolution has developed a very effective system: fight or flight and think later.

This system has served us well throughout our history, especially 50,000 years ago when running or waiting and seeing what is hiding behind a bush was the difference between life and death.

Today, the same system continues to be at the core of most of our reactions. We are designed to get stressed in the face of triggers so that we can learn and live.


Our brains and bodies want to keep us safe. And thus, evolution gave us the ability to detect threats very strongly. In fact, some say that we are drawn 2.7 times more easily towards a threat (the negative) than towards a reward (the positive). Again, from an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of constant triggers. The triggers have changed, but our reaction has not. It is still the same 'primitive' survival mechanism as it was 50,000 years ago. 

Infographic on how stress affects the brain

Your brain and nervous system like certainty.

And only small doses of novelty

Certainty helps us to control our environment. Certainty helps us to achieve safety. At least in the traditional sense.


Certainty will help you survive more than uncertainty.

Because we do not like uncertainty, we create stories to fill in the blanks, and we create strong beliefs and opinions to make sense of the world.


We also seek novelty but normally only in small doses. A bit of change is rewarding and exciting, but too much change is threatening.


To control uncertainty, our brain likes to predict. We are happier when what happens is better than what we anticipated. And we are not happy when things are not as we expected. We notice some of it at the conscious level, but most of it actually happens below awareness.

If you ask someone why they are struggling with a change, they might not always be able to tell you why, but they sure can tell you that they dislike it.

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positive thinking, resilience, stress and burnout

Infographic on how stress affects the brain

Your brain and nervous system like prediction

We use our senses to make sense of the world.

What comes from the world through our senses is in fact data. Your brain does not ‘see’, or ‘hear’. Your brain only decodes patterns.

Our brains like to automate processes and thinking so that they can save energy and keep you safe. Many of our beliefs and thinking patterns, including biases and cognitive distortions, are automated and fast processes that help to make sense of the world and to make faster decisions.


Prediction is part of this because prediction is safety. It helps to remove as much processing as possible so that our brain can mainly focus on the unexpected.


So uncertainty and change is really the gap between what you are currently experiencing and what your automated processes (beliefs, thoughts...) are expecting.

Lack of certainty and loss of control IS stress

Our brain and nervous system are marvellous creations of evolution. Designed to keep us safe, they like to avoid threats, and to predict and seek certainty.

Unfortunately, this mechanism is being challenged by modern society.

Life has become ambiguous, fast-paced, and ever-changing.


No wonder people are stressed. They want to change their environment and remove all triggers. For them, uncertainty is not rewarding and is a threat to their identity and mental models (how they see the world).

It is easier to remove uncertainty and return to a sense of balance and control than to confront it. 

Yet, for most, this sense of control is not returning, because life is increasingly full of change. 

This results in stress. Chronic stress and feelings of hopelessness and total loss of control over one's life.

Managing chronic stress means learning how to better manage uncertainty and loss of control.

It is not easy. But it is possible.

Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, for example, I can help you to learn how better manage uncertainty and let go of control. If you are willing to let go.

'Research reveals three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control.'

- Gabor Maté

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A new version of yourself

  • For many of my clients, their chronic stress or Burnout are connected to reaching a 'blockage' in their lives and/or career.​

  • They feel that they need a change. But they are afraid of it. They are afraid of leaving a sense of safety behind them and of jumping into the unknown.​

  • Because not knowing is unsettling, it is common for clients to want to know quickly what the next version of themselves can and will be. Only by knowing can they replace the previous sense of safety with the new one.​

  • Unfortunately, it rarely works like this. As unsettling as it may be, it is necessary to learn to trust the future before the future can become clear.​

  • Every transformation is a step into the unknown.

  • It is scary at first, but then extremely rewarding later. It is an opportunity for growth and for a better life.

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Burnout Coach Eric Mahleb

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