What if I fail my exam? What if I don´t get a job? What if I get cancer? What if…? Worrying about the future is a common experience for many people. It can be difficult to let go of the unknown and the things that are out of our control. However, worrying about the future can lead to stress and anxious feelings, so why do we keep worrying about the future when it makes us feel bad?

As humans, we have an incredible capacity for thinking, analysing, and problem-solving. Our ability to anticipate future challenges helps us to prepare for the future by making sure that many of the uncomfortable things that potentially could happen in the end does not happen, as we thought about it, prepared for it, or was able to avoid it. This is a great thing, however, many of us have started to overdo it which is now making us feel very stressed and anxious.

Why do I overthink when it stresses me out?

There are many different reasons for why we might overthink, but something we see frequently in the clinic is that imagining things that may happen in the future gives us a false sensation of control and lowers the uncomfortable sensation of uncertainty that may come with not knowing what will happen. If we can think of everything that might happen, we may be more prepared to face the anticipated feared situation, and even lower the probability that what we are fearing will actually occur. However, in many cases, what we imagine might happen is never actually going to happen, and anticipating and imagining it makes us feel even more anxious.

¿Cómo dejar de preocuparse por el futuro? 2

So, how can I try to stop worrying about the future?

Focus on what you can control: Invest time and energy in what you can actually control. There are many things in life that are out of our control, but we can learn how to better control our reactions and responses. Instead of worrying about the unknown, focus on what you can control and take action when you can. For example, you cannot control whether you will pass an exam or get a job, but you can control whether you study (something that will increase the probability of passing the exam), or whether you send out job applications (which will increase the probability of getting a job).

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I have any evidence that the thing I worry about will happen? This might be a tricky question to answer, as we are often very good at finding evidence where there are none. Do you find any evidence to the contrary? Has it happened before? Has it happened to other people? See if you can find any alternative statements that might seem more likely, for example “it is difficult to find a job, but I have gotten jobs before, it might just take a while”. If there is no evidence to our worry, then it is better for us to think about the more appropriate and likely alternatives or statements.
  2. In the case that you do find evidence supporting your worry, ask yourself whether it is actually important. Would the consequences be so terrible? Would it affect many areas of your life? Could things be ok even if the thing you worry about were to happen? Often, we give too much importance to things that in the end might not matter long-term, so it is important that we evaluate whether this will actually have a significant impact in our life, and if it does not, then it is not helpful for us to continue to think about it.
  3. If you can find both evidence and importance to your worries, ask yourself whether it is useful for you to keep worrying about it. Will it help you to solve your problems if you continue thinking about it? Will anything change? Will it lead to an action that changes the consequences? Does it make you feel good? If the answer is no, then it is better to think about the things you actually can do something about. If the answer is yes, great, let’s put action into motion, and only think about it when you are actually going to do something about it.

Seek help

It can be very difficult to stop worrying about the future. If you are struggling to stop and it is starting to affect different areas of your life and wellbeing, it can be helpful to seek the support of a mental health professional. They can help you develop coping skills and strategies to manage your worries and fears in a more helpful way, so that you only worry when it is useful for you.

About the author

Amalie Hylland is a health psychologist at Sinews. She specializes in behavior analysis and modification, working with adolescents and adults. She has experience working with a variety of issues, including anxiety management, phobias and ruminative thoughts, assertive and social skills development, self-esteem, procrastination, self-harm and obsessive compulsive behavior. Her orientation is behavioral therapy, integrating evidence-based techniques and tools to help change the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that cause us problems.

Amalie Hylland
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Amalie Hylland
Languages: English, Spanish and Norwegian
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