“What if…?”

Have you ever tried to fall asleep, but hypothetical “what-if” questions run through your mind, keeping you awake at night? You may have experienced future-tripping. “What if?” questions and fears about the future often come to us disguised as tangible concerns, even if they have little merit. But our anxious feelings towards the future (especially now) are very real. 

Fears about the future often come to us disguised as tangible concerns, even if they have little merit.

“There’s general worry, there’s your anxious mind, and then there’s the fear of the unknown,” explains Lisa Pepper-Satkin, MA, MFT, and my therapist of 18 years. “When you’re overly triggered by anxiety, it’s very common that all three of those areas of concern are experienced as life-threatening.” 

The good news is that even when our fears are realistic, we don’t have to let them run our lives. Intentional language, a shift in perspective, and grounding practices can aid us in finding empowerment during these overwhelming moments.

The Power of Words: Use Intentional Language

When addressing anxiety, it’s helpful to first establish the importance of words. Our language doesn’t have to be universally the same, but it works best when intentional. Because some words can be triggering for anxiety and actually cause future-tripping, finding mindful language for speaking with ourselves and loved ones is essential. 

So often we set ourselves up for failure by creating stories about who we think we are, not who we actually are, or who we could be. Stories such as “I’m too much” or “I’m not good enough” are likely untrue and easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. Once we release ourselves from limiting language, a world of possibility opens to us. 

We can also create physical reminders, like sticky notes, of healthier ways to talk to ourselves.

Practically, this may mean speaking up when language feels uncomfortable. We can also create physical reminders, like sticky notes, of healthier ways to talk to ourselves. Resist the urge to write this off as advice to simply “think happy thoughts.” Using intentional language doesn’t mean ignoring life’s hardships, instead, it means refusing to let them control you. Words are both powerful and personal, meaning that each individual can figure out what works best for them.

Change Your Perspective: Establish Support Systems

We can shift our perspective by changing the language we use when speaking about anxiety. For example, instead of using phrases like “It’s going to be okay,” we can focus instead on our next steps. “I encourage people to remind them[selves] of how they’re going to get through something,” Lisa explains. “That’s the best way to cultivate a healthier relationship with future-tripping and anxiety.” 

Instead of using phrases like ‘It’s going to be okay,’ we can focus instead on our next steps.

Because we can’t know what the future holds, changing the framing of our worries frees us to handle uncertain possibilities. Lisa has been working with many clients who are anxious about these uncertain times, “Everyone that talks to me asks, ‘What if?’ There’s no way we can work with that,” she tells me. “What we can work with is to know you’ll gather the most incredible team possible to help.” So how will we get through it? What are the tools available to us? The “how” is where strength, empowerment, and compassion can thrive.

My coping tools are my family and close friends, who are a constant source of support. I also find comfort in my faith, my movement practice, my journaling habit, and my beloved television shows. All of these serve a different function in my journey towards healing and for when I’m experiencing future-tripping. “[If something happens], we’re not going to blame ourselves, we’re going to be grateful for the team that’s in place,” advises Lisa. 

We each have the tools and people to help us navigate difficult times. Lean into your support systems by reaching out to loved ones when you feel your anxiety taking over. Having vulnerable conversations with people you trust can sometimes help release future-tripping episodes. 

If you feel you need more support, go into what Lisa calls “radical self-care” and consult your list of activities that soothe you in times of stress. Whether it’s moving your body or cooking a nourishing meal, familiar tasks can bring unparalleled comfort. Most likely it will be a combination of these approaches, which is why it’s essential to build both a reliable community and self-awareness practice.

It’s essential to build both a reliable community and self-awareness practice.

Stay Present: Use Grounding Practices

When we remind ourselves of what is true rather than worrying about what could be, we move into a new phase of healing: learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. 

“What we get to learn is how to compartmentalize our thoughts and kind of categorize them, so that we can stay grounded and present, rather than worry about something that hasn’t happened yet,” Lisa explains. 

Believe [your] values, not [your] feelings.
— Lisa Pepper-Satkin

As an empath, it’s unnatural for me to compartmentalize; however, I’ve learned that it’s so important in quieting my anxiety and releasing future-tripping. Worrying about that which hasn’t happened yet, and that I have no control over, is futile.

“It’s so key to stay right here, right now,” Lisa confirms, reminding me to “believe my values, not my feelings.” This means that instead of letting my anxious mind control my life, I try to observe my concerns, let the feeling wash over me, and then release them. Some things are harder to let go of than others, and it’s a daily practice, but it’s immensely helpful in learning to appreciate the present. 

The future of the world is uncertain, yet much of it is out of our control. Instead of worrying about what we can’t do, let’s focus on what we can.

Say it with me: breathe in, breathe out.

How do you confront overwhelming thoughts? Share in the comments below!


Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.