Anxiety: ‘What-if’ Thoughts and How to Deal with Them

Published: Oct. 2, 2023

Philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said, “Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions, not outside.”

When it comes to being anxious, one phrase that may exasperate the emotion is--"What-if?" When you say to yourself, “What if x, y, or z happens?” your anxiety tends to go up a notch!

One 'what-if' thought can lead to another and then the spiral begins. If left unchecked, it can get out of control and cause you even more anxiety or stress. Recognizing when the 'what-if' thinking happens is key to stopping that out of control spiral. The good news is that these thought patterns can be broken and new habits can be developed. As soon as you start feeling anxious follow these three steps.

Ask Yourself, “What Can I Control?”

In almost every situation there is something you can control. If you focus on that one thing you can affect, you may be able to control a different aspect of the situation. It’s important to focus on what you can do which leads you to feeling more in control. This approach allows you to be proactive rather than reactive. Focusing on what can control will also help you search for solutions.

Ask Yourself, "What Are The Facts?"

When 'what- if' thinking sets in, you might start making up scenarios that aren't true. Those scenarios that play out in your thinking may cause increased anxiety and fears and often involve imagining the worst possible situation. Asking yourself what the facts are or what is true about a situation may help give a better perspective. More often than not, the worst-case scenario doesn't actually happen. 

Stay Present

Staying present may be difficult to do as it requires blocking out distractions to focus on what is happening right in front of you. Ask yourself, “What can I do about this right now?” Give your attention to that one thing and see it through to the end.

The Goal Is To Stick With It

This process of decreasing the 'what-ifs' may seem simple but it takes diligence to change your thinking patterns. The process needs to be consistently repeated. Keep following these steps and in time, you can decrease the amount of times you're asking 'what-ifs' and ultimately reduce your anxiety.

Still can't stop the 'what-ifs'? Best Care EAP is here to help. Best Care EAP counselors are available to meet in-person, over the phone or virtually. It's easy to schedule a confidential appointment. To start the process, please  Click here to fill out our counseling registration form.

More Resources

Want more tips and resources? Check out our free on-demand webinars and a variety of articles in our Resource Hub.

About the Author

Amy Monzingo has been in the counseling field since 1997. She joined Best Care EAP in 1999. 

Education: BS in Human Development, MS in Community Counseling; Licensed Mental Health Practitioner.

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