Stop The “What If” Spiral: 7 Ways to Stop What If Thinking!

Last Update on April 18, 2024 : Published on April 18, 2024

“Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” — Franklin P. Adams 

This humorous quote perfectly sums up the essence of “What if” thinking, doesn’t it? What if thoughts are crazy; they keep us busy by churning anxieties, but in the end, lead us nowhere productive. 

Maybe that presentation at work, an upcoming trip, or just a general feeling of unease about the uncertain future – these what-if thoughts keep us up at night, hijacking our peace of mind, and leaving us feeling nothing but overwhelmed. But, fret not! In this article, we’re exploring the mess of what-if thinking and giving you tools to stop what-if thinking – once and for all. 

Anxious to find out what can help you stop worrying about things you can’t control? Let’s keep reading! 

What Are “What If” Thoughts? 

What Are “What If” Thoughts

“What if” thoughts are pesky little questions that pop into your head, often painting the picture of the worst-case scenario you can dream of. They’re like little gremlins whispering doubts and anxieties. For starters, they can look like this; 

What if I mess up my presentation” or “What if my plane crashes?” 

What-if questions can be about anything – from relationships to finances, and from health to the weather. While a healthy dose of “what ifs” here and there might help us prepare ahead for any unlikely scenario, it can become problematic when these questions slip into constant worry.

Related: 51 Keep Calm Quotes To Help Your Mind Stay Calm

Some examples of what-if thinking… 

  • “What if I lose my job today?”
  • “What if I get into an accident?” 
  • “What if my spouse divorces me?” 
  • “What if I go bankrupt?”
  • “What if my poor health means I’m dying?”
  • “What if I never find a partner?”
  • “What if I have an anxiety attack in the middle of the road?”

These intrusive “what if” thoughts can; 

  • Paralyze you from taking productive actions. You get so fixated on the negative scenarios that you avoid taking action, hindering your progress 
  • Worsen anxiety and stress. The constant worry and “what if” thoughts can trigger the flight-or-fight mode, impacting your sleep, concentration, and overall well-being 
  • Create a distorted sense of reality. These “what if” thoughts can paint a picture far worse than what’s likely to happen, creating unnecessary fear in your heart and mind 

How to Stop “What If” Thinking? 

How to Stop “What If” Thinking

Okay, so now that you know what a real pain “what if” thoughts can be, let’s take a look at the ways you can stop “what if” thinking and move on; 

1. Notice And Acknowledge Them 

The first step to stop these thoughts is to notice their existence and acknowledge their impact. Become aware of your “What if” spiral. Catch yourself getting lost in the maze of negative thinking. Acknowledge the thoughts without judging them. If you do find yourself getting to the “what if” scenarios, tell yourself, “There I am again, thinking…” 

2. Challenge The “What If”

Ask yourself, “Is the what-if realistic?” Most of the time, the chances of your worst-case scenario happening are slim to none. Ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support this worry?” “Is it realistic enough for me to worry about?” More often than not, you’ll find that there is very little to back your “what if” thinking. So, why waste your time on them? 

3. Plan, But With a Twist 

I know how counterintuitive this sounds, but hear me out. Instead of ruminating and dwelling on the worst-case scenario, consider what you can do if the worst-case scenario actually happens. For example, what if you forget your keys in your car and lock yourself out of it? — look for ways you can plan for such scenarios. For example, “I can always call for backup or take my emergency key with me” This kind of backup plan for your worst-case scenario will make you feel prepared. 

4. Change Your Focus 

I know it sounds a bit too complicated, but try to move your focus. Worrying can be like a mental black hole, sucking you in. Moving your focus from something negative to something positive can help. You can write things down that make you feel positive, listen to uplifting music, or engage in a hobby that brings you joy and enjoyment.

5. Become More Mindful 

Practicing mindfulness exercises such as meditation or deep breathing can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions without getting overwhelmed or swept away by them. Imagine your worries as leaves floating on a stream. Acknowledge their presence, but instead of picking through them unnecessarily, let them drift away. That’s the best you can do to stop your what-if thinking, too! 

6. Change Your Thinking Patterns 

Did you know that what-if thoughts often come from distorted thinking patterns, such as catastrophizing and mind-reading? Catastrophizing is a negative thinking pattern wherein you assume the worst outcome first, whereas a mind-reading thinking pattern is where you’re convinced others have negative thoughts about you. You can learn how to identify these thinking patterns and change them by countering them with realistic thought patterns. 

7. Lastly, Seek Support

Sometimes, what-if thinking can be a symptom of anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If your worries feel overwhelming and interfere with your daily life, then don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor or a therapist for help. A professional can help you find the right tools to manage your anxiety and stop what-if thoughts. 

Wrap Up… 

We all have our what-if gremlins whispering doubts in our ears, every day. However, it is our choice whether we listen and give in to these doubts and anxieties. With the right tools, you can learn to stop worrying and what-if thinking, and reclaim your peace of mind. 

I’d like to leave you with a bonus tip; Sometimes a change of scenery helps! If you’re caught up in the loop of what-if thinking, take a quick walk around the block, in a park, or in your yard. Disconnect from your devices and listen to the birds chirping. Remind yourself of the beauty that’s around you. 

This tip has helped me many times, so why not try it yourself? Maybe it’ll work for you too in helping you stop what-if thinking! 

Know that life is full of uncertainties, but there’s also a pot brimming with possibilities. Try to focus on the latter and enjoy the adventure life has to offer. Rest will take care of itself.  

Did this article help you learn how to stop what-if thinking? Let me know how you work with and prevent what-if thoughts in the comments section below. 

Until next time, take care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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