A typical symptom of anxiety is “what if” thinking. What if I ended up alone? What if my kids get sick? What if I don’t get that job? What if the plane crashes? What if thinking increases the fight or flight response and leads to more anxiety. Anxious thoughts can be like noxious weeds that take over your mind space. Your mind can go over and over the same worry like a hamster on a hamster wheel without a solution. This is called rumination. Like tomatoes, anxious thoughts need pruning.
Simple cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) to deal with “what if’s”:
- First identify if you have a real problem. Remember, real problems have real solutions. If you start your thought with “what if” most likely it is a worry and not a real problem.
- If it is a real problem, make a plan and follow steps to address the problem. Doing so will increase your sense of control. Know that procrastination and avoidance typically exacerbate anxiety. The more you avoid, the more anxious you will feel.
- If you determine that it’s a worry and not a real problem, use thought stopping. Simply say “STOP” to the thought and redirect your mind onto a something positive and productive such as what’s for dinner or think about where are you going on your next vacation?
Information was adapted from “The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Tools” by Margaret Wehrenberg.
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), treatment modalities such as EMDR Therapy, Accelerated Resolution Therapy, and Brainspotting can be very helpful in exploring and addressing underlying causes of anxiety.