How the Game of “What-If” Is Leaving You Anxious


Is the game of “what-if” leaving you anxious? Are you scratching your head thinking, what in the world is she talking about? Inside episode ten of The Courageously.u Podcast, we are chatting about the terrible, soul-sucking game of “What-if” statements. 

The game goes a little like this…

 You have thoughts that sound like: 

  • What if I’m single forever?
  • What if the plane crashes?
  • What if my house burns down?
  • What if I have cancer?
  • What if I never get pregnant?
  • What if something happens to my child?
  • What if I fail my test?
  • What if I embarrass myself during the speech?
  • What-if I make a fool of myself at the party?

This game of let’s pretend the worst thing possible happened is a lame game that only leaves you anxious. 

So why do we play it? 


Your cortex, the space in your brain where thoughts and images occur, prepares you for all worst-case scenarios. It generates potential problems with the hope that you will come up with a possible solution. This becomes an issue when people bite the worry bait and are reeled in by their anxiety. 

The problem with pretending is that over time you get used to the thought and forget it was a game of pretend scenarios. Over time you stop responding to the “what-if” part and instead skip straight to the catastrophic statement and absorb it as truth. 

What’s worse is that if you’re a chronic worrier, you most likely have no clue that you’re even playing this “what-if” game. No wonder anxiety is ruling your roost. You’re only noticing the catastrophic statements. 


So what is catastrophic thinking? 

A catastrophic thought takes place when you ruminate about irrational worst-case outcomes. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen? 


So how do we play the “what-if” game?

You're going about your day, and a thought pops in your head that sounds like: 

What if someone goes into my house when I am gone?

The “what-if” is the bait, and the “someone goes in my house when I am gone” is the catastrophe statement.

So basically the statement sounds like: 

Let’s pretend someone goes into my house when I am gone?


If you want to change your relationship with worry, you must first become aware of it. When you become aware of “what if” statements, you train yourself to respond differently to the worry and you develop a new way of relating to it.

So what can you do if you catch yourself in a game of let’s pretend the worst thing ever happened?

  1. Start by recognizing you are even playing the game. This is where mindfulness comes in. We spend so much of our time on autopilot that the majority of the time, we don’t even recognize we are playing a game. 
  2. Look for evidence for the likelihood of this event happening.
  3. Come up with a plan. You can come up with a plan to help reduce the anxiety, or come up with a plan for if the catastrophic thought was to happen.
  4. Once you have your plan, move on. If the thought pops back up, remind yourself that you have a plan and move on again. People get stuck when they  fail to move on and continuously worry about the catastrophic thought.⁣

Remember, it’s one thing to come up with a solution, but it’s important to note that if your solution begins to impair your life or holds you back from living your best life, it’s a problem, and you need to generate a better solution to the worry.


Another thing to note is if you’re thinking “what if” statements, you’re most likely not in danger. Your ability to think about catastrophe means your cortex is still online, and your amygdala, which is responsible for igniting anxiety, has not taken over. If there were danger present, your cortex would go offline, and your amygdala would be running the show. 


If you loved this episode, and want more help managing your anxiety, be sure to download my 4-week action plan for helping you learn to coexist peacefully with your anxiety. You can snag it here…. Click me!

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