I can't stop thinking about bad things that could happen

Sometimes it can feel like your mind is working against you. You’re trying to live your life, but your brain won’t stop focusing on bad things that could happen. Whether or not those things actually will happen, these kinds of thoughts can be frustrating—and exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to be worried all the time!

The emotion you feel when you’re worrying all the time is called anxiety. Your body tenses up, and your mind becomes fixated on the thing you’re worried about. It can be hard to concentrate on anything else. Anxiety can also affect your appetite and make it hard to sleep.

A little anxiety can be useful. For example, if you’re anxious about an upcoming exam, it might motivate you to study so that you feel more prepared. But anxiety can easily get out of hand. If you’re so anxious that you can’t concentrate on studying, the anxiety is no longer useful.

Reducing your anxiety in the moment

If your anxiety has gotten out of hand, the first thing you need to do is bring it down to a manageable level. This can be easier said than done, but with some practice you should be able to find a few coping skills you can use. A few simple ones you can try are deep breathing, exercise, and writing in a journal.

Once your anxiety is a bit lower, you can start to think about what’s actually going on: What is your anxiety trying to tell you?

Worrying about real-life problems

It’s natural to feel anxious about something that realistically might happen. For example, if you’re about to move to a new city, of course you’re nervous—your whole life is about to change! But once you get there and have had some time to settle in, the anxiety will likely pass.

In the meantime, give yourself a set amount of time—say, half an hour—to sit with your anxiety. Make a list of everything you can do to prepare for the thing you’re worried about. The next time you feel anxious, use a coping skill to bring your anxiety down to a manageable level, then look at your list and see if there’s anything on it you can do. And if there isn’t? Use a coping skill and move on.

Irrational worries

When your worries are about something that’s very unlikely to happen, or if you’re disproportionately worried about something relatively small, your anxiety is considered irrational. (“Irrational” is another word for “not realistic.”) Sometimes, when people realize their fears are irrational, they stop worrying about those things. But this doesn’t always happen, especially if you have an anxiety disorder. If you think you might have an anxiety disorder, take a mental health screen to find out whether that’s likely. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable.


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