5 Helpful Things To Do When You Can’t Stop Worrying About The Future

It’s about learning how to worry more productively.

Man in checkered shirt looking worried as he stares out his window with his arms crossed

The world is a worrying place and there’s no shortage of things to keep us up at night. Yes, some worrying is helpful in small doses as it allows us to stay focused on the things that matter. But if you find yourself excessively fretting about the future and all the what-ifs it may bring, well, that’s not a healthy way to live for myriad reasons. For a few? It’s disruptive and frustrating and leads to everything from stress and exhaustion to anxiety and isolation.

When it comes to worrying about the future, the most important thing is not to let those thoughts overwhelm you to the point that you can’t focus on the present. Thinking only about tomorrow and things that are out of your control can keep you from living a healthy, fulfilled life in the moment. So what can you do when worries about the future overtake you? We asked five therapists for their best advice. What they shared are simple ways to reconsider worry and ground yourself when things feel out of control. Here’s what they said.

1. Schedule Your Worrying

“Choose a consistent time each day for addressing worries. When anxious thoughts arise during the day, gently remind yourself to set them aside for this designated ‘Worry Time.’ This helps in compartmentalizing these thoughts and prevents them from overtaking your day. Whenever you notice anxiety or worries surfacing, focus on this empowering thought: ‘No matter how big this feeling gets, it can never be bigger than me.’ Direct your attention non-judgmentally to the feeling of worry, acknowledging it as a normal human experience while also recognizing your own resilience and strength to handle it.” – Rod Mitchell, Psychologist

2. Try the “5-4-3-2-1” Technique

“Here’s how it works: Identify five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise is beneficial because it diverts your focus from hypothetical future scenarios and brings your attention to the present moment. By anchoring your senses to your current environment, you allow your mind to take a break from future worries and to engage with the here and now. Regular practice of this technique can help you develop a habit of redirecting your focus away from future anxieties and towards your present reality, making your worries more manageable and less overwhelming.” – Kim Homan, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

3. Give Yourself Some Anchor Points

“Knowing what to expect each day can eliminate unnecessary stress and anxiety. This doesn't mean your day has to be rigid and devoid of spontaneity; rather, think of it as a regular rhythm to your day. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time, have regular meal times, and set aside specific times for work, exercise, and relaxation. Having these daily anchors can provide a sense of normalcy and control, no matter what unexpected events may occur in the future. Remember, it's okay to tweak your routine as needed — it's there to serve you, not to restrict you. – Lindsey Tong, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

4. Write Then All Down And Call For Backup

“Seeing worries on paper, rather than swirling around in your head, can give you a sense of perspective and help you prioritize what needs your attention the most. You can also use this list as a reference for addressing each worry, one by one. Next, with this list on hand, talk to someone you trust about your worries. Tell them what's on your mind and see if they can provide some helpful insight. Having another perspective to consider can be incredibly valuable when dealing with worries.” – Heather Wilson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Clinical Trauma Professional

5. Plan For Whatever Is On Your Mind

“Worries often arise from feeling unprepared or uncertain about the future. By creating a plan of action, we can address our worries proactively and feel more in control. For example, if you're worried about a test, you can create a study schedule and seek help from a tutor or classmate. If you're worried about an upcoming presentation, you can practice beforehand and prepare visual aids to enhance your delivery. Having a plan in place helps reduce the impact of worries and allows us to handle situations more confidently.” – Haley Hicks, Licensed Clinical Social Worker