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Living with “What If” — Addressing Anxiety

pexels-photo-68257There are many people who don’t know that their hesitations, fears, and even compulsive “musts” throughout the day are actually stemmed in anxiety. Regardless if the anxiety is caused from stress or trauma, the longer anxiety is ignored — the worse it usually gets.

If your life is plagued by “what if” moments, then it is time to address your quality of life from a mental health standpoint. It is important to know that not all anxiety disorders are the same, however all of them can cause such distress that it interferes with your ability to lead a normal life. The “what ifs” can become immobilizing and then the stress can lead to actual physical disability.

When you ruminate on every situation or “what if”, the big and the small can create  a perfect storm of symptoms that will then result in even more anxiety. Trouble sleeping, issues with eating too much or too little, lack of concentration, headaches, and even stomach upset can all be the result of “what if” anxiety or challenges making decisions.

As a licensed therapist, I tell people all the time to own their anxiety. Don’t run from it. Don’t hide it. Accept that you have it and then find someone to help you work on getting ahead of it. The last thing that you want to do for your body or for your mind is to try to ignore the “what if” questions in your mind.

Separating fact from fiction is important, too. If a “What if” question is getting the best of you, and you are in between appointments with your therapist, try to weigh out the scenarios. For example, if you’re afraid to get in a car to drive to the grocery store because “what if” you get into a car accident, set yourself up to examine the facts and weed out the fiction. Yes, car accidents do happen, but we can’t predict when they will happen. We can, however, try to work hard at preventing them. So, ask yourself a series of questions about your “what if” scenario as a way to separate fact from fiction and then assess the risk and the result. In the case of our example, if you don’t go to the store for groceries, the result is you probably will go hungry. If you are careful, aware of your surroundings, drive defensively and take the risk of driving to the store, you probably will not go hungry. Ruminating about all the “what ifs” is wasted time and energy. Assessing and addressing is a better coping strategy.

Remember, anxiety is a real thing. Your “what ifs” can cause mental and physical distress. It is very important to work with a professional to address the issue and type of anxiety that you have so you can refind your joy in living again!

Living with “What If” — Addressing Anxiety

Maryanne Nicholls

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist (RP), Certified Gestalt Therapist (Cert. GIT), and trained in Narrative Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), and Trauma & Attachment Psychotherapy. Her company, The Joy of Living, provides in-person and online therapeutic resources focusing on trauma and stress. Further, Maryanne is a professional speaker. More about Maryanne, The Joy of Living, and her specialty can be found here:

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APA Reference
Nicholls, M. (2018). Living with “What If” — Addressing Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.