Have you ever started a question with the words “what if”? How did it continue? “What if I get fired?” “What if I get sick?” “What if the plane I’m flying on crashes?”
“What if…?” questions ask what will happen/what we will do if a certain, usually negative, event occurs. Their common characteristic is that they carry a certain form of fear or indescribable anxiety within them. Another common feature is that they deal with events that have not yet occurred and may not occur at all (and probably won’t). Unconsciously, we ask ourselves a question and the parade of catastrophic thoughts can begin.
So why do we ask ourselves these questions that lead to nothing (good)? A difficult question. I think it is not uncommon for these thoughts to occur to us without us wanting to think about them. Others explain that they create these catastrophic scenarios in order to better cope with them when they happen and not be caught off guard.
However, as I suggested above, most of these catastrophic premonitions never happen. And by thinking about them, (unnecessarily) preparing for them, and stressing over them, we are wasting energy… Therefore, not only are we getting tense, but we are also wasting energy that we could use in a better and more productive way.
But what if it does happen after all?!
You could object to me that sometimes our unpleasant visions do come true. And you would be right. Life is unpredictable and brings unpleasant events. But it is pointless to burden ourselves with them in advance because we still won’t come up with a solution. The situation can play out in so many different ways and forms that we can only come up with a really fitting solution when it is actually happening. So let’s solve problems only when they arise.
It is also possible that even if the event happens, it will happen at a time when it will no longer be such a huge burden for us. Or that we can solve and cope with it without any major difficulties and we will tell ourselves that we were unnecessarily worried in advance. Have you experienced this before? How about the idea of taking the high school entrance exam? An unbearable threat. But in the end, you probably managed to handle it (maybe even without any problems).
I can even imagine that our fear of what might happen can paralyze us to the point where, by focusing only on it, we bring about the feared situation ourselves. Not by any esoteric power of thought, but simply by expending all our energy on our fear and stress instead of conscientiously fulfilling our work duties, leaving us with no capacity for work. Thus, our boss becomes dissatisfied with us and may genuinely get the impression that someone else could do our job better. And we get fired, which we were so afraid of.
What have “what if” questions prevented us from doing?
Try asking yourself what “what if” questions have prevented you from doing. Because of “what if I get lost?” and “what if the plane crashes?” we did not go on a great vacation. Because of “what if it doesn’t work out?” and “what if I fail?” we did not try something we desired. “What if I don’t know it” and “what if I can’t do it” prevented us from taking an interesting job or going to school…
And this is another huge trap of these questions and concerns. They can prevent us from soaring and enjoying life. A frightened person lacks self-confidence, doubts themselves and the world, and so does not accept challenges and deprives themselves of new experiences or adventures.
…what if it doesn’t happen? So, what to do when the “what if…?” question arises? Instead of an endless carousel of negative thoughts and fears, try something else. Try asking “what if it doesn’t happen?” and develop the idea of what the situation will look like without any dramatic twists. Because that’s the most likely version.
Try to exaggerate your catastrophic scenario as much as possible
Do you think this is not action-oriented enough for you? We have a more action-oriented option. Try to exaggerate your catastrophic scenario as much as possible. “What if I miss the bus? I won’t get to work on time. The boss will get angry. He’ll fire me. He’ll give me bad references. I’ll never find a job again. I’ll be unemployed for the rest of my life. My partner will leave me and kick me out of the apartment. I’ll have nowhere to live…” You see? Just because of a stupid bus, I’ve become homeless. Absurd, right? And that’s precisely the point. To bring the situation that causes us worries to such absurdity that we ourselves won’t be able to believe it and, with a bit of luck, we’ll even laugh at it and realize that it’s not that bad, and that missing the bus doesn’t have to mean any colossal life upheaval.
Many bogeymen look much bigger in the future than they actually are. Therefore, we should not be afraid and become nervous about things that (maybe) will come, but focus on what is happening now.
Of course, the above-mentioned options that are intended to help alleviate the concerns arising from these questions are just an example of what you can try. However, they are neither one hundred percent nor the only way to get rid of these fears. If you feel that your life is accompanied by various concerns more than you can bear, you may consider visiting a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist who can help you break out of the vicious circle of fears and anxiety.
“Did you know…” at the end
There is also a condition characterized by excessive experience of such fears and anxieties. It is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People who suffer from it experience uncontrollable episodes of fear and concern. These are most commonly related to ordinary life situations, such as employment, health, or family.