Coping with Anxiety about the Future
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Worries about the future are common and can be debilitating for some people. It is natural to experience anxiety around the future, as we want to protect ourselves from possible risks or threats that can take place with our future well-being. That said, anxiety about the future can sometimes veer towards impairing our quality of life, mental health, and well being. Here are some ways to manage and decrease anxiety about what lies ahead:
1. Distinguish between productive and unproductive worries - It can help to distinguish between unproductive and productive worries. A productive worry is one that you can do something tangible about, such as “Oh man! I need to make a dentist appointment.” This is productive in that there is a tangible action you can take by calling your dentist’s office and setting up an appointment. An unproductive worry is one in which you cannot do anything tangible NOW to relieve that worry. An unproductive worry may look like, “What if my plane crashes when I travel next week?” or “What if I don’t get into the college of my dreams - I won’t be able to have the career I’ve dreamed about.” These far-reaching worries can be unproductive because there is not anything you can do right now to resolve that worry. You can’t predict that your plane is going to land safely at its destination and you can’t predict whether or not you’ll get into the school of your choice.
When you find yourself experiencing unproductive worries, it can be helpful to see if there’s anything you can do NOW to make that worry productive, such as practicing relaxation strategies you can use during your flight or identifying distracting activities, like reading or listening to podcasts, that you can engage in during your flight in order to have a plan to tackle any anxiety you may experience. If you’re worried about where you’ll be accepted to college, you can focus on doing your best academically in order to increase your odds of getting into the school of your choice
2. Probability vs. possibility - It can sometimes help to identify how probable it is that a certain scenario is likely to happen. So many clients over the years have shared about how their biggest fears have barely ever manifested, and will use this insight to challenge future worries. Yes, anything is possible, however how likely is it that something you are fearing will actually take place? Often, the things we fear are not as likely to occur as we believe. Taking stock of this can often help relieve anxiety about the future.
3. Identify past coping abilities - When we are worrying about what will take place in the future, it can help to look at how we’ve effectively coped with adversity in the past. Look back on a past difficult situation - what skills did you use to cope with that situation? What strengths did you rely on in order to manage it? By identifying ways you’ve survived past difficulties, you can then use this insight to remind yourself that you have the capacity to use these coping mechanisms when experiencing challenges in the future.
4. Mindfulness of the present moment - I read a quote this week that resonated with me. It states, “No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.” If our anxiety cannot change the course of our future, then we may best be served to practice staying in the present moment. If you notice yourself worrying about what lies ahead, you can then compassionately bring yourself back to your present surroundings. Focus on your current physical experience, what you are sensing and what is happening around you. By focusing on your senses, it can get you out of “thinking mode” and provide distraction and relief from your worries.
You are entitled to relief from your anxiety. Worrying about the future can truly rob you of your ability to feel joy in your present life, disconnect you from your relationships, and hurt your well-being. I invite you to consider using the ideas I’ve mentioned in order to start freeing yourself from anxiety you may be experiencing about what’s coming down the pike.