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Revenge On Anxiety’s “What If’s”

Suffering from anxiety often means that you are living your life at the mercy of “what if”. Anxiety grabs hold
of your mind, and focuses in on worry. Your mind begins to ruminate about what if this happens? What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t fix this? The what if’s consume your mind, attention and focus.

Get revenge on the what if’s. Think for a minute what this means. The what if’s are consuming your energy and attention, spending it on predicting the future. The what if’s are all about utilizing your energy on things that haven’t happened, they are about trying to pretend you are psychic thus having the ability to predict what will happen in the future. Logically, this seems silly, but in the mists of an anxiety episode this is exactly how our mind works.

Learning to regain control over the what if’s can be difficult. The first thing to focus on is becoming aware of your anxiety, while you are experiencing it. Often we can look back at a period of time and understand that our actions were driven by anxiety or anxious thoughts, but while we are in the moment we rarely are able to understand how our emotions are effecting us. Once an awareness is developed, you can develop a plan of action. This plan of action works best when you develop it ahead of time. During an afternoon when you are not consumed with the what if’s, allow yourself to design a plan. When you are worrying about something, what should you do? Find a distraction like taking a walk? Perhaps writing up a pros and cons list of outcomes? This plan can be almost anything that works for you. Remember that this may be an evolutionary process, as the first plan might not work or it may take you some time to develop the habit of identifying your anxiety, taking control, and implementing your plan.

Often, people will use distractions to control their anxiety. Distractions are like putting a Band-Aid on anxiety. It’s a solution for the moment but does not address the problem at hand. Most people may not even realize that they using distractions to cope with anxiety. These people may be uncomfortable alone, so they are constantly in social circles, always have a roommate (if they are younger) or family members in the home. These people can’t sit alone, they always have the TV or radio on if they are home alone regardless if they are in the room or not. There are many ways that distractions can be used to avoid being left to one’s own thoughts and worries. This coping strategy is frequently utilized, but does not solve the problem of anxiety or worry. Once the distractions run out, the original problems come right back.

It is best to directly address anxiety head on. This may mean talking with a professional or a close friend to better understand why you are consumed with worry about the future events that have not yet happened. Remember, you are not psychic and your thoughts, worries and focused energy will have no effect on the resolution of these events. There are many ways to address anxiety, you just need to figure out what works best for you.

One exercise that I have often used with patients is to think about the worst case scenario. Thinking this way, allows you to fully understand what is the worst possible outcome of a situation and gives you the information needed to prepare for it. For example, Sally might be worrying about an upcoming exam at school. She is so worried about the exam that she can’t focus on studying and is unable to sleep at night. These problems are building up and increasing her anxiety about doing poorly on the exam. If she can’t study or sleep, how can she possibly pass the exam? These thoughts become consuming and overwhelming.

So I ask Sally, what is the worst case scenario? She says she fails the test. Ok, what does that mean? If she fails the test, then she might fail the class. Ok, what does that mean? It means she will need to take the class over again. Ok, what does that mean? It means she will have to pay for the credits twice. Ok, is that the end of the world? Sally thinks a moment and agrees that it’s not the end of the world.

This exercise sounds simple, and it is but it works wonders. Once you are able to rationalize the irrational thoughts running through your head, the what if’s have lost their power. This rationalization can be used at anytime, anywhere, and any way that works best for you. It’s effective and a healthy way to deal with anxiety. Remember, you are not psychic and cannot control the future. You can control your behavior today, and how you act may influence the outcomes of tomorrow. Worrying about an exam and making yourself sick will not help you get a better grade, however understanding that failing the exam is not the end of the world may calm you enough so that you can study effectively and then ultimately earn a higher grade.

You have ultimate control over your actions, thoughts and emotions unless you give that control over to the what if’s. Take back control of your life.


Till then, continue “Discovering Your Own Way”

-Dr. Brennan

Revenge On Anxiety’s “What If’s”

Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D.

Dr. Brennan attended Rutgers University, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology. She also completed a Master of Arts in Psychology at Pace University. Upon completion, she began a doctorate program at Argosy University completing a Master's of Arts and Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Currently, she is an adjunct instructor for a community college, co-founder of the non-profit organization Little Hands International, and developing her own psychology clinic. Trained in the Practitioner-Scholar model, Dr. Brennan works with clients using empirically supported techniques such as CBT, ACT, and BFST. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders.

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APA Reference
Brennan, M. (2014). Revenge On Anxiety’s “What If’s”. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Aug 2014
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