What can I do to not think too much about the fear of uncertainty?
April 18, 2021 11:05 PM   Subscribe

So, I guess things are getting real for me and I'm really going to be moving to Canada soon after 3 years of planning. A series of realizations have recently come upon me and I'm getting scared of what is coming.

To put things into perspective, I'm moving to study in Canada. I'm very lucky and was born to privileged family. I never had a debt, not even when I was getting my major in CS. More than that I'm leaving my country with a sizable amount of money. It's not a huge amount, but I know many people my age in the US and elsewhere that don't have this kind of money. Hell, even my sister and some of my cousins don't have this much and I know one of them has a BSc from MIT and a PhD from Stanford.

Nonetheless, I think I'm the first one in my family to migrate to another country without knowing anyone at all. Even my cousin who went to Saudi Arabia knew people there. I don't know anyone in Canada and I'm pretty much starting from scratch. I'm already establishing relationships with people at my university but still, I never thought this much about it.

I was looking at apartments today, and while the prices are pretty easy going compared to Toronto or Vancouver for instance looking at them is what started all this.

For the record I'm moving to Kingston, Ontario, but it's very likely I'm going to end up in Toronto afterwards. It's the best place for what I want to do.

That kind of scares me too, I've not lived in a city that large. I wonder if I'll be able to find a job. If I do get one, will I be able to afford Toronto?

Generally, I don't think too much of those things and just push forward, ready to face whatever challenge may come my way. I am going there because I believe Canada is my best option to realize my ambitions. I want a start a business, I have no qualms about living somewhere decent, having to pay $2000 or more in rent or living with a roommate. I'm also determined not to let this damn pandemic be an impediment. As strange as it is, I managed to make these things happen last year, which is probably everyone's worst possible year, all the while learning French, working full time, doing my damnedest to avoid that awful virus and also going to weekly therapy sessions.

Nonetheless, this is a "things got real moment". I'm leaving everything behind, and I'm sailing to uncharted waters. If things were just better these days, I might not think about it so much, but this thing is going on everywhere and it's inescapable.

So what do I do? How do I try not to think about crazy hypotheticals?
posted by Tarsonis10 to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I recently read You are Here by Thich Naht Hanh. Hypotheticals are sort of pre-req or foundation for anxiety. A Buddhist application is to pause this pre-req, simply recognizing that you cannot know, until you know.

What this allows for practically, is for the mind to reset itself, as well as the operator to fully focus on any current task. It's doubly helpful in allowing the bandwidth needed for full focus immediately, and the dormant thinking to process future direction or plans.

You certainly have the right mindset.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:44 PM on April 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Congratulations!

You are going to be fine. Take it one day, one moment at a time.

I did my graduate degrees at Queens' in Kingston - it's a LOVELY town, a small town, and you'll probably make friends fast. There's so much to do and see for very little money - even just taking the Ferry to Wolfe Island and back is a nice way to pass the time to decompress. It's gorgeous in the summer, the people (both students and locals) are friendly and welcoming. It's the Canadian way!!

You can probably find a job in Toronto with a degree from Queen's - it just depends on what you're looking for. Toronto is expensive, but the jobs there pay well. Also, thousands of people commute into Toronto every day - if you're worried about the cost of living, you could definitely find housing on the Go-Train Line and commute to Toronto for school or work.

Canada has a dark history, it's true - the Indigenous people of Canada have been and continue to be notoriously mistreated. Having said that, one thing that modern Canadians seem to value value is our diversity and our earnest attempt to continually strive towards greater inclusivity. We have so many first and second-generation immigrants here and it's what makes Canada unique and strong and special. I'm confident that you can probably make friends with similar backgrounds.

Right now, I bet everything feels like a huge unknown - and I feel that stress, for sure. The thing that I love about Kingston (which make it better and less scary than U of T or McGill for me) is that it is a small town, and you can almost always walk to campus and work with the really lovely folks at Queens' who can help you with any resources you need - whether health, living, cultural or otherwise.

As I'm typing this, I have a significant pang of nostalgia. I called Kingston home for 7 years and they were some of the greatest of my life.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:45 PM on April 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

I think I'm the first one in my family to migrate to another country without knowing anyone at all

I'm saying this just in case it helps you reframe things a little: has anyone in your family moved to another state without knowing anyone at all? Or even another city?

Because while Canada is definitely another country with its own culture and ways of doing things... it's also about as similar to the US as it's possible for another country to be. You're not moving to a place where you'd find yourself at sea without the help of some guides you know. People aren't going to find your culture foreign. You will not have trouble expressing yourself in another language. The distances aren't going to be as big as some moves inside the US either, and pandemics aside visiting your family or friends in the US isn't going to be any more of a problem than it would if you moved to some distant state. You also have no actual need to stay there - you can stay if you like it and easily leave if you don't.

So while it's insulting to Canada and not a perception you should keep up in general... for the very specific purpose of dealing with your current anxiety, maybe just temporarily take the idea that you're migrating to a foreign country out of the equation.

Anyway, I know what you mean, though. I have "this is getting real" moments about all kinds of things that aren't actually a big deal in the least. So work on this in therapy since you're already going, but also let remember that it's just your brain getting overexcited about castles in the air. The reality is not actually whatever you've built it up to be. It seems like you've decided you have a lot riding on this move - your future career, future citizenship, etc. And yeah, the pandemic has injected a special level of unsteadiness into everything we do. But in reality, it won't be catastrophic or anything if things don't turn out quite as you imagine them. I mean, they almost definitely won't. So when the big picture scares you, remember that you can't actually know what the real big picture is. Focus on putting one foot ahead of the other. Each of those steps will be on solid ground, and the trick is to realize that.
posted by trig at 1:50 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hello! I moved from Canada to Australia about 10 years ago and was terrified as I counted down the days to my flight.

The reality is, the moments that pass are just moments. You'll drive up to Kingston (or fly!), get the keys to your apartment or Airbnb, lie down for a nap. Maybe you'll be a bit jet-lagged if you're coming from a different time zone. You'll go buy your books (is that still a thing people do?), wander around town, get a new phone number, bank account, transit pass.

You'll get to feel all the new feelings of being in a place without anyone you know, but in the moment it'll just be a day, an evening, a weekend. And then that will add up, and you'll have been there a month, six months, a year, before you know it.

I've read your previous questions and have followed your journey as you formulated your plan and made things happen. I'm cheering for you from the other side of the world :)
posted by third word on a random page at 2:45 AM on April 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

[Note: A look at the OP's question history suggests they're not in the US].

I guess there are a couple of ways of approaching this -

1. Do as much as you can to reduce the unknowns - it sounds like you're doing a great job of this, doing plenty of research, getting all your ducks in place. Good work! At the end of the day, there's only so much you can do to prepare these things in advance, there will have to be things that you can't know until you're there, and therefore there will always be a level of uncertainty ahead of arriving.

2. Learning to live with uncertainty. As firstdaffodils says, a lot of Buddhist practices (and their secular offshoots like mindfulness meditation) deal with this. I particularly like Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron, where she talks about how we do so much to try and distract ourselves, to get away from the 'edge' of our feelings - the painful parts - and it only ever makes things worse. Trying not to think about the fear of uncertainty is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. The more you push it away, the bigger it comes back. If you can learn to accept and sit with the uncertainty a little, rather than push it away, the less overwhelming it becomes. So you could look into mindfulness meditation practices to help. Also - some people find it helpful to note that anxiety of an impending event is a very similar physical experience to excitement, and like to reframe it that way. I'm not sure it helps for me, but it does for some!

Best of luck, it sounds like you're doing a great job and I'm sure you're about to launch on one of the great adventures of your life :) Having read Dressed to Kill's comment, I'm envious!
posted by penguin pie at 2:54 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'll echo firstdaffodils' recommendation, and broaden it to mindfulness in addition to the Buddhist lens on it. A common way of thinking about this in the context of mindfulness and meditation is to recognize that, regardless of the thoughts and scenarios you're imagining while you're feeling this tension, the only part of that that's really happening in your body (and not in hypothetical thinking land) is the emotions and their physical correlates. Those are happening in your body right now. Can you still yourself and tune into those sensations? What does that anxiety or fear feel like, is it a pit in your stomach, or a racing heartbeat, or sweaty hands, or...? Well, you can sit with that! Those sensations are real. Your fears are imagined. The more familiar you are with these sensations--how they come on, how they build, peak, ebb, and subside--is a real and practical step in addressing worry. For me, too, that excitement and fear "feel" very similar in my body. Fearful thoughts and exciting, uncertain thoughts "feel" like shades of the same physiological response. The difference is how I experience them subjectively, but since I've never been too excited to function it helps me remember that I'll probably be able to keep moving no matter how fearful I seem to feel.

It may be helpful to remind yourself that imagining crazy hypotheticals is sort of the human condition, so you're not alone in this. There's no such thing as not having fears, or suppressing fearful thoughts. Your brain will do that on its own, without asking the conscious part of you for permission. If you're interested, give mindfulness/meditation a try. Headspace, for instance, even has a module of 10 daily sessions called "Leaving Home" that is aimed at your situation (its summary reads, "Starting a new chapter in life can be challenging. Learn to cope with the change by creating a sense of stability in the mind.").
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:23 AM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Put one foot forward in front of the other, and keep going and you will get there.

You are moving to Kingston ON to go to university. Although you don't know anyone in Canada, you have a community to join with other immigrants and a major organisation with the resources to help you. This is a good thing. You are more than capable of flying to Canada and starting your course. You will be able to navigate the bureaucracy and learn loads. If you get stuck and don't know where to turn, you will post here and the Canadian mefites will suggest ideas and solutions to you.

You might move to Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal or somewhere else when you graduate. But by then you will have friends and acquaintances in Canada, you will have a better grasp of how Canadian life works and how you want to fit yourself in.

It is scary, but you can just keep checking off your to-do list until you get on the plane. And then you are there.
posted by plonkee at 4:13 AM on April 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

A look at the OP's question history suggests they're not in the US

Ah, I'm so sorry! I'm not sure why I assumed that. That renders the advice above pretty ridiculous :-)

Looking at your question history, that really is a big move. Having made that kind of move, honestly, I think what helps the most is just not to think about it too much in advance. Which is obviously easier said than done. You say that you keep thinking about hypotheticals despite trying not to. Maybe start a notebook of hypotheticals, where you can write them down instead of keeping them in your brain. When the same thought recurs, you can tell yourself "I'm on top of this; I've already written it down."

With respect to connections: since you'll be coming from a country with a relatively small presence in Canada, have you researched whether there is a community from your country in either Kingston or Ontario? Or even put out feelers online in your country for people with relatives in Canada? You're pretty likely to be able to come up with at least some connections -- maybe not as close as family or friends, but people who'll be able to show you around a bit when you get there and give you some tips about things you might not expect. Your university may have student groups for people from your area or who speak your language. Also, if you happen to belong to any religious community, you could look for a connected community in Kingston. If you come up short along all these avenues, you could also try writing to your country's embassy in Canada to see whether they host cultural events or provide any other means of making connections. (Plus, you could take advantage of Metafilter and join or start a local meetup...)

In other words, don't worry too much about not having connections at this moment. You'll probably be able to make some before you even move there. And if you don't, you'll meet people soon enough. It'll be okay. (I'll also say that in my personal case, it's not so much that my connections weren't useful as that they weren't that useful, and in some cases I think I would actually have been better off taking my own advice rather than theirs and working harder to build my own social life rather than relying on them at first. So it's always a mixed bag.)

Finally, has your planning included any fun or exciting things? If not, make a list of things you'd like to do in Kingston, or Ontario in general. The pandemic complicates this, but there are still plenty of outdoor attractions, plus you can make a post-pandemic list as well. This will eat into the time you could be spending thinking about scary things, and will hopefully help balance out the trepidation.
posted by trig at 4:17 AM on April 19, 2021

Best answer: I’ve done short term moves to a new country, though never a real emigration in which I was aiming for permanence. I suspect that as the time approaches, you may be able to get through some of the discomfort of the immediate changes by just burying yourself in the details of your move to Kingston. I strongly suspect that the details of a later move to Toronto (or wherever) will become less intimidating once you have done some of the groundwork you’re planning to do in Kingston. The nice thing about moving and joining a university community is that it puts you in touch with many people who are roughly where you are in life and who are looking for friends and a purpose. This is really fertile ground socially, in a way that just moving to a city for a job isn’t quite. Maybe you know this already (I forget if you’ve already done some post-secondary study where you are) but hopefully it still helps to hear it.

Otherwise, I think your question is aptly framed and that sitting with the discomfort, as others have noted, is part of the answer. Making choices that align with your values and your beliefs about what will give your life meaning is the goal — and it sure seems like you’re doing that here. That’s not always compatible with avoiding uncomfortable feelings, and having those feelings isn’t a sign you’re doing it wrong.

Another thing you might focus on in the time until your move (how long is it?) is setting aside some time to enjoy the things where you are that will be harder to see after you move. Visit extended family, eat your favorite foods, see any tourist attractions you’ve never bothered visiting because they’re always there, that sort of thing.
posted by eirias at 4:28 AM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hey Tarsonis10, I live about 90 minutes from where you’re going to be. I’ve never lived in Kingston but I grew up in Ontario and have lived about half my life within a few hours of it. If you want, I’m willing to be kind of an on-boarding buddy for you.

You are going to have access to all kinds of hyper-specific information through the university and the networks you’ll develop there, but if you want, I’d be okay with you texting me random questions. I’ve been an immigrant and I know the kinds of things that are stressful, where it’s easy to get official information but sometimes hard to know how things really work. (Like, what should x cost, what is a typical way to do y, etc.) So if you want, you can memail me and I’ll give you my contact information. I don’t have a ton of extra time, but I’d be happy to take the occasional question when you’re having a hard time figuring something out in your early days here. It’s a big move and I know it’s daunting; I’d be happy to help :)

(And welcome to Canada 🇨🇦 :))
posted by Susan PG at 6:57 AM on April 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You'll drive up to Kingston (or fly!)

This is one of the few places in Canada where the train is a viable option. :)

As others have said, Kingston is a smaller place, so if you aren't used to big city life, it's a good place to start. It also has good road and rail connections to Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, so you can dip your toe into those places slowly.

Queens is also a popular university choice for people from those places and that will help with connections.
posted by TORunner at 7:33 AM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I took a fairly blaze approach to moving to a different country for work (twice!) and it wasn't terrible.

Make sure your uni tells you what government paperwork you might need to do re immigration, residency and tax when you arrive (expat forums on the internet can help with this, too).

Since you are going to be settling in rented accommodation, understand the norms of renting like terms and notice periods and what is included (again: expat forums). I don't think this will be too surprising for you but everywhere is slightly different. It's not a big thing - it sounds like you already have this under control - but you might save yourself a surprise or two if you ask to see a sample rental contract, for instance.

Big cities are interesting. Like you, I had never lived in one until I did. I treated every weekend as a holiday - basically being a tourist, exploring something new and seeing what I could find - museums, yes, but shops, restaurants, anything - and even wandering through neighbourhoods that had a bit of character. At the end I knew more about some of the out of the way places than my local friends did, and somehow it really helped me settle in.

You went to university and did a degree. That was, presumably, another leap in the dark where you didn't know what to expect. That turned out fine. This will too.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 7:41 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think I'm the first one in my family to migrate to another country without knowing anyone at all

I'm not sure what was understood by that. Yeah, I'm not American, but even if I were, I'm really not talking about Canada being some foreign land with strange people or something. I'm a Latino, but the US and Canada aren't really all that foreign to me. I don't really feel that I won't be able to express myself, or that I'm going to find myself culturally shocked.

It's really just the fact that this is something no one in my family has ever done. Most of the time my family members have gone to the US, mainly because we have American relatives littered all over the East Coast and by American relatives I mean people that were born there. My family has a strange history, I think most of us have been immigrants, there was a period of time in which relatives of mine lived in China, I have a cousin that lives in Saudi Arabia, and apparently someone related to me also lives in Australia.

Anyway, to go back to my original point. It's not that Canada is foreign, it's that among my Latino family, it is not the norm to choose other places besides the US. I chose Canada, and I have many reasons for doing that. When I was planning this 3 years ago, other countries were considered, not the US though, and I have my reasons for that. I like the US a lot, but there are certain things that are out of whack over there.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 7:43 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How not to be anxious? You could do the usual: medication, therapy (sounds like you already do this), make lists and plans.

You could also accept that this is a huge move, and it's natural to be a bit anxious about certain things. To me this problem is a bit like telling yourself not to think about elephants... of course the more you tell yourself that, the more you think about it anyway!

Personally, with a big move ahead of me, I'd focus on the saying goodbye to-do list. Eat all the food that might be hard to find in Kingston. Learn recipes so you can make comfort food when you miss family and home. Buy your home team jersey, or your university hoodie, etc. Maybe, if it's safe, visit your go-to places before you leave the country. This is not to force some emotional goodbye thing, it's just that it'll be a while before you get to connect with those things again.

And honestly? If I'm feeling good about my level of preparation for the move, and I still have lots of time to kill? I'd just immerse myself in other hobbies. Play video games or binge a TV show or something. It's such a RARE thing to have time to just BE, rather than constantly working towards the next thing. That's why it's so hard for your brain to get it. I'd tell myself "my job for the next X weeks is to be a lazy bum" :)
posted by tinydancer at 10:21 AM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know how to help you except maybe help you to articulate your feelings. For instance, is it that you are worried that it's going to be the wrong choice and your family might say - "See, you should have moved to the US"? Are you afraid it's going to be an awesome choice and they are going to be jealous of you? Are you afraid you will get into trouble and need help and they will be too far away? Flights between Canada and the US are often cheaper than domestic flights within Canada.

In any case, we will be thrilled to have you here in Canada!
posted by kitcat at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This thread exemplifies something that you're already doing and that is *asking for help*. People generally love to help so you are not alone in this adventure. The other side of it is to find people that *you* can help when you get there. It may not be much at first as you're getting used to all the newness, but helping others will get you focussed outwards. Anxiety is totally natural and fine in this situation but it is a self-inward emotional phenomena. The more you turn outwards, the less your anxiety.

I agree with the recommendations on mindfulness and meditation. This is a skill that will come in handy for life. I liked "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics" by Dan Harris.

I live in Ottawa, but have visited Kingston, as others have said, it's a fine city and you will find it easy to get around, and a pleasant place to live.

Congratulations on this undertaking. Canada awaits!
posted by storybored at 9:52 PM on April 19, 2021

I grew up in Toronto and have family and friends all around southern Ontario, including Kingston. It's a small town with a solid university, cold in the winter and hot in the summer, people are friendly and it's fairly quiet.

It's also mid-way between Toronto and Montreal and you can easily take the (very frequent, totally viable) train to either on a weekend if you want a taste of a bigger city between classes, to network for jobs or to connect with a bigger community. Your university will certainly have people connected to both academic and business networks in Toronto. Canada's only got a few major cities. If you get a CS degree and find work in Toronto, you will be able to afford to rent there and live a fairly secure and enjoyable existence. It's a great town -- safe, interesting, lively, extremely multicultural -- and is as central as it gets in Canada for jobs or starting a business.

I think Kingston's a fairly good place to land when entering Canadian society! It's comparatively cheap but well enough connected that you can ease into things, a good place to study and clock up the years necessary to work through the PR process.

Welcome and congratulations! Don't sweat it! Canada is a country of immigrants -- especially in-and-around bigger cities and in the tech sector -- and you'll have lots of people to compare notes with and find a place to call home.
posted by ead at 8:34 PM on April 20, 2021

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