Why Saying "What If" Can Be Harmful To Your Mental Health
Thinking outside the box is only beneficial when you focus on your positive thoughts.
Overthinking the negative is harmful to your mental health.
John shares the detrimental effects of assuming the worst-case scenarios. While it’s normal to sometimes look ahead - especially when you’re making tough decisions or when you are welcoming significant changes in your life – it’s best to acknowledge that the future has not happened yet and it’s not worth stressing over.
Your thoughts influence your feelings and they also have an impact on your behavior. When you find yourself in stressful situations, assessing your thoughts can help you overcome negative prospects and possibilities. Your thoughts need to be rooted in truth and not assumptions.
Focus on the positive outcomes and be open to people who are willing to help you.
[0:00] Why is saying “What if?” bad for your mental health?
[2:03] So many people bear the “What if” mindset.
[4:18] Everything starts with your thoughts.
[5:47] Thinking outside the box is normal.
[6:53] What is the “Grass is greener” syndrome?
[7:58] What are the negative effects of thinking this way?
[10:56] What if the thought is actually rooted in truth?
[14:35] You can’t shut people out because it’s not healthy for you.
[16:27] Ask yourself these three questions that help you address these thoughts.
[20:48] What if something good happens?
[24:00] Focus on good thoughts.
[25:10] Reach out to John.
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Reach out to John Cordray: www.johncordray.com
Disclaimer: The Mental Health Today Show is for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as therapy. If you are seeking therapy, please contact a licensed therapist for help.
Why saying what if can be harmful to your mental health? That's what we're gonna be talking about in this episode of the mental health today show, why is it thinking or saying out loud? What if can really be harmful and detrimental? To your mental health. We'll talk about that. Caught mine up. Oh, don't worry about today or things.
We cannot change it's over the past week can erase. All right. So we're going to talk about why saying what if can be a really bad thing for. And many of you do that a lot, many of you talk about and think about, well, what if, what if and the, what if tends to be on the negative side? Well, what if the person doesn't like me?
What if I mess up? What if I embarrass myself? And every time you start to believe that that can be harmful to your mental health and what happens when you. Start to think that, so let's say faulty thinking, because you're believing in something that hasn't happened yet. You think it's true, but it's not true, but you think it is.
And then you have a feeling that is rooted in that faulty thought. And then what happens? It turns into a false belief which then can influence your behavior. So if you're constantly thinking, what if, what if something terrible is going to happen? You're catastrophizing your mind reading. You're projecting into the future that you don't know it's going to happen, but you think it's gonna happen.
And that influences your behavior, which then can interfere in hinder and harm your mental health. And so I wanted to talk about this because this is something that is so common in my practice. I talk to many, many people every day, all week when I see them. And, and by the way, I wanna welcome you back to the mental health today.
Show some of, you know, some of you have I've listened to my show have seen that I've taken a break it's because I have needed some time away for myself and for self-care and I needed time. Just refresh because I had started a new job and my new job now is a hundred percent remote therapy. That's all I do.
And when I talk to most of the people, this, this topic of this episode is so critical because so many people and probably you as well have a lot of thoughts that go like, what if. What if I fail, what if I don't get the job that I really want? What if the person that I'm interested in dating? Doesn't like me, what if I go to work?
And I embarrass myself and I say something and people will judge me. It's very common. So congratulations that that's you, you're in a common group, however, It is something that can be detrimental because if you start to believe the, what ifs, things that are happening in the future, that you cannot predict, but you think you can, , it influences you and you start to believe it.
It turns into a false belief. And once it turns into a false belief, it then turns into a false narrative. And you have this whole scenario in your mind of the whole. Every detail of failure after failure after failure. Right. And so the, what if turns into your worst enemy? Because it's a thought that turned into an emotion or a feeling at which then influenced your behavior.
And it's so critical to get this. And, and this is really kind of the crux of just about any mental health struggle, whether it's anxiety or depression or stress or whatever overwhelm it starts with your thoughts. There's always an activating event. Something that happened that triggered the thought. And if the thought is something that you think is going to happen, when you're assuming the, what ifs, for instance, then it influence your feelings and your anxiety is increased.
Your depression has increased. Maybe your stress has increased perhaps. Just, just to whole self confidence is lower. And then that then influences your behavior. And so if you are your thinking is what if I embarrass myself in front of people? The feeling is anxiety. And then the behavior that's influenced is you don't go out to places.
You don't, you don't go meet up with your friends even, or you don't go to the grocery store. You don't go to places. And so the thought that you, that's not truly rooted in the truth, you think it is, but it's not is influencing how you feel the anxiety, which then influences your behavior by not going places.
Because all traits back to the faulty thinking the what ifs. And sometimes though, I, I don't wanna say every time you say to yourself, what if is wrong or bad to your mental health? Not at all. I mean, there's always, there's always another side to the coin, right? So some of you maybe some of you are very innovative thinkers and maybe you're, you're an entrepreneur.
Or maybe you are just a real positive person and you're thinking, well, what if this happened? Like in a good way. Okay. That's good. All right. We'll, we'll accept that because now you, you, you might be the type of person that likes to think outside the box. Right? Well, what if we did this and then this could happen and lead to all these good things, but that's not what I'm talking about here.
I'm talking about the, what if something is going to go wrong. I talk about the grasses greener syndrome. You know what that is, right? when you think about, oh, if only I were able to do that thing, life would be better. If only I was be able to lose the weight, then I'll get dates. If only my personality was better, people would like.
If only if only if only that's the grasses greener syndrome. If I do just over there, grass would be greener, but you know, as well as I do, that's not always the case. And sometimes, and while actually a lot of times it's the opposite of that. If only if only I changed, if only I was a better person or a better friend or a better.
Daughter or a better son. And when we start to believe that it turns into a false belief, like I mentioned, and, and then that is how it hinders and harms your mental health. Because when you start to believe something that's not achievable or not rooted in, what's true. There's always the, you know, the thought of there's why can't I do this?
Or there's something wrong with me. You see how that, that faulty thinking can really influence how you feel, which then ultimately influences how you behave and your behaviors. And then there's always an outcome. And, and most of the time it's a negative outcome. And maybe it's, you start to behave in a way that you withdraw from people because you start to believe that you are no good.
And there's something wrong with you. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to clients almost daily and they'll tell me that things like they believe that they're a failure or they said something. That they just know was a wrong thing to say. And, and therefore they're a bad person, almost daily.
And I, I talk with people on a. Daily basis about this very thing. That's why I thought this would be such a good topic for this episode, because I know most of you, if not or many of you, if not, most of you struggle with this and, and maybe it's not the number one struggle that you face, but at some point you have faced this, you have thought this.
And the negative thinking turns into the negative feelings, which then turns into influencing your behavior, whether it's a, a job that's coming up that you really want, or maybe it's a promotion that you want, maybe you just got let off laid off from work. And maybe your company is downsizing or restructuring in some way, and you were let go.
And it's very easy at that point to start to allow the, what ifs to influence how you feel and how you behave. What if I never get a job again? What if my manager gives me a bad review? Would if I get involved in a team that I hate or they hate me. It could influence you in a very negative way and it can hinder you.
And, and when you start to give in and start to believe the false truth, that the what ifs and that you're maybe a bad person or there's something wrong with you, then it will, it will just destroy your confidence. And when your confidence it's low. It's hard to get things done. It's hard to stay productive.
It's hard to stay positive. And when you're not positive, then nothing makes sense. Right? You wanna give up, you, you are overwhelmed with everything that needs to happen. Even the little things in your life, whether it's cleaning the, the kitchen, doing the laundry. Sweeping little things that maybe perhaps before wasn't an issue, but now it is, it's huge because you, you, you are believing in something that's not rooted in truth.
Now the question is I've, I've gotten this question before, too. What if the, the thought actually is rooted in truth? So it's something that, you know, actually happened. Maybe you did say something. And it made people mad. Maybe you did something that was embarrassing. Right? And so it's rooted in truth. It's not necessarily rooted in something that hasn't happened yet.
It's not necessarily a, what if something bad's gonna happen? It's more of what happens if something does happen, that's bad. Well, in that case, then we're talking about emotions and context. Does the emotions that you're feeling match the context. In other words, you've heard the expression before, right?
Making a mountain of a Mo hill. Right? So making a mountain of a Mo hill doesn't fit the context, right? Your, your emotions doesn't fit the context. You, you have big emotions over something that maybe happened. That was very minor. And so when something actually does happen and, and it's rooted in the truth, and you still have the feeling of anxiety or depression or stress or overwhelm, or you, you name it, then you look at the motions and context.
Does, does how I feel match the context. A good example. Let's say you're feeling really, really, really sad because someone died or you had a pet die. Well, in that case, the emotions that you're experiencing matches the context because of something bad actually happened. And so when that happens, then you start to look at, okay, this is how I'm feeling.
This is how I'm feeling and, and ask yourself, is it rooted in truth or is it rooted in false? What I think is true and you say to yourself, okay, it's rooted in truth. Okay. So now we have the feeling that's matched with the context what's going on. And now we, now we start to focus more on the emotions.
Because it's, they're big emotions, right. And we wanna validate how you feel. So it's not about trying to avoid how you feel. It's about validating it and knowing what to do on how to, to proceed with feeling that way. So we wanna validate your feelings are valid, but you don't want them to influence your behavior.
Now some cases you do. Absolutely. Like if you're grieving, it's going to influence your behavior. You wanna do that. There's a time to grieve and you need space to grieve and, and, and you need to be able to withdraw and grieve not forever, but you need that space. So when you have an emotion, enough feeling, what do you do to process that?
And it's important to process. And, and sometimes people process things in a, in a unhealthy way, maybe it's isolating themselves, they're feeling down and, and upset. And so they don't. Talk to people. They withdraw from their friends and their family. They withdraw from their support network. And, and that is what's really, really important to be thinking about not withdrawing from others that want to help you and love you and care for you.
The temptation is there. The temptation is I'm hurting. I don't want you around me. I need to be by myself. Yes, there might be a time and a place for you to be by yourself, but you can't shut people out, cuz it's not good for you. It's not healthy for you. So if your feelings are rooted in something that actually happen and it's true and it fits the context.
Then we're wanting to process how you feel. And I want to encourage you use the people in your life, the support, people who care about you. Now, this is related to the, what if right? Some of you might think, well, what if I don't have anyone that cares about me? And then it starts the, the spin your mind is spinning again.
I'm by myself, no one likes me. I'm a failure. I am a loser and there's no one in my life that loves me or cares for. And my question is really, do you really have no one in your life that really cares for you and wants the best for you? My guess is there's at least one person. If you start down that track of the, what if, and then that leads into the faulty thinking and the, and the then influences your feeling and then ultimately your behavior.
You're, you're gonna be caught in quick saying, and you can't, every time you move, you're gonna sink down. You're gonna be stuck. And that's why it's so important to be able to identify is goes right back to the thought is what I'm thinking based in truth, or is it based in something that I think is true if it's based in something that's truth.
Then you look at the emotions and context and then you process and work through those emotions. Now, what do you do they'll process through those emotions? Well, that's a different episode. well, that's a different topic for another episode and we'll get to that. We'll talk about that. But this episode, I wanted to focus primarily on the faulty thinking of the, what ifs.
And what to do. And so, so think about three questions and, and this is a, a great tool to be able to use in your life. So I, I want you to maybe write this down, but this is a tool it's, it's very simple and very easy concept. But not always easy to implement. And I'll say that right away, because the things that I recommend I know are, can be very difficult to, I.
I mean, if you're already filling down, the last thing you wanna do is work right. but you have to work on your emotions. You have to work on your behavior if you wanna make change. And so this, this tool that I'm gonna suggest and, and recommend that you use, it's, it's a simple concept, but it's very difficult to implement at times.
And so the tools, this involves three question. When you recognize that what you're thinking is not based in truth is what you think is true. The what ifs well, when you start thinking that way, I want you to ask yourself, first of all, what am I thinking? Second? How am I feeling in third? What am I going to do about it?
So in other words, what am I thinking, ask yourself, is this thought, the thought or the thoughts that I'm having, is it rooted in truth or is it rooted in something I think is true then the second one is, well, how am I feeling? I maybe it's anxiety, maybe it's stress. Maybe it's anger, maybe it's depression.
And then the third question is, okay, what are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about the thought? So if you have identified that the, what if is rooted in something that you think is true or that you think is going to happen or you're catastrophizing, then, then ask yourself, what am I going to do with that thought?
It's very important question. So, what am I thinking? How am I feeling and what am I going to do about it? What am I gonna do about that negative thought? And so this is where the hard work comes in. So it goes back to the thought that you're thinking something of what if, what if something bad is going to happen?
So that's a fault thinking a faulty thinking. So what are you gonna do about it? What you need to do and really be working on is replacing that false thought with a truth. Thought something that's true. An alternative thought. What's another way of thinking about the situation. Try to reframe it, replace it with a more healthy thought instead of a negative thought instead of, well, what if someone is not going to like.
Replace it with a, a different thought such as well. I don't know if anyone's going to like me or not, but I also don't know that they're gonna hate me. Right. So even that is more positive than thinking, oh, what if everyone's gonna hate me? Right. So be working on the, what are you going to do about the faulty thinking you replace it, reframe that thought into a more positive thought.
Does that make sense? So when you, when you struggle with the, what ifs and they, they influence how you feel and then influence how you behave, be thinking about this tool, the three questions, and it could really revolutionize if you will, or transform your thinking. And once you're able to transform your thinking, you're gonna start feeling better.
And at least be able to handle these negative thoughts that you tend to. So again just as a reminder, the, the three questions to ask yourself, what am I thinking? How am I feeling? And what am I going to do about the faulty? Thinking about the, what ifs, what if, and then maybe you can then turn in the, what if that you have.
Normally, you start to the, what if of the bad things that are happen, maybe then you can start re replacing it with the, what, if something good happens. You still don't know the outcome, but you're focusing on you choosing to focus on the positive. And there's the work choosing to focus on the positive, right?
It takes a lot of work, but if you don't put in the work, no one else is going to do it for you. I mean, you're, you have people I'm sure that love you and care about you and support you, but they can't do the work for you. You have to do the work. You have to be the one to work on those thoughts, those negative thoughts, and replace them with a more healthy alternative.
No one can do it for you. So I hope this episode has been helpful. I hope this is helpful for you because I, I know that so many people struggle with this very. The, what, if something bad is going to happen? The what if you, you kinda fill in the blank there for you. And, and if, if the, what if leads to negative thinking, you don't know it's gonna happen, but you think it's gonna happen, then chances are, you are not believing something that's true.
And that false belief is what's driving and, and, and influencing you. And then you, you start to believe something that's not even true, which is where a lot of us get into par into trouble. When we believe something that's not really true, we think it is, but it's not. So the next thing, the next time that you think about the, what ifs I want you to be thinking about this, and I want you to ask yourself if you catch yourself thinking, what if, and it's negative, ask yourself, is this what I know to be true?
Or is this something that I think is true and when you can answer and identify, okay, this is something I think is true. And then you ask yourself, well then how do I, how am I feeling? And if it's a negative feeling, then, then you gotta challenge yourself. I think. Okay, well maybe I need to go back to my thought and reframe it and come up with a better thought, a more healthy thought.
It's better to believe something that is positive and something that's gonna be more encouraging than the opposite of that. Even if you don't know the true. And I know, I know I, I can just hear different people saying, well, you're not, you shouldn't believe in everything and be happy all the time and Pollyanna this and Pollyanna that, okay, I get it.
I get it. Some of you might tend to be more of a pessimist then an optimist, and I get that too different personalities. But if you have a choice of. Thinking about and believing something to be positive rather than negative all the time. Wouldn't you rather choose the positive wouldn't you rather have a positive influence in your life rather than a negative influence in your life?
I think so. I think you would want the positive. I know I would. Because if you start to really rely and, and believe in the negative all the time, it turns you into a cynic and a pessimistic person. And that's where you just always look at a negative at the situation and other people. And that will, that will just keep you down more than.
So I wanna encourage you to be really thinking about the, what ifs that you say to yourself and challenge your, your thoughts. If you believe that it's an, you, you're starting to believe in something that's not true, really challenge yourself and say, okay, how, what's another way I need to look at this situation.
And I think you'll see an improvement. It takes work. It's it. And a lot of practice. You're not gonna get it right all the time, but it's worth it. And so I want to encourage you and, and I wanna ask you if this has been helpful to you, let me know. You can find me on LinkedIn. You can find me on Twitter.
I'm I'm out there a lot, but I, or you can go to the mental health today, show.com website and let me know. I'd love hearing from those who listen to this show and it helps me and encourages me cuz I need encouragement too. It helps me know that I'm not just speaking in a void but seriously though, I, I, I really appreciate you being here and being a part of this program.
And if you haven't subscribed yet, please do so whatever podcast app that you're using love to have you come back on a regular basis. Love to have you reach out to me on LinkedIn. I I'm very active on LinkedIn. These. And just type in my name, John Cordray. And it'll be, be right there. You should pop up.
So I appreciate you so much. And I, I just, I, I am a licensed therapist. I've been doing this for a lot of years, since 2007, and most recently I'm doing it online now. So I'm a telehealth therapist and I enjoy it. I enjoy it a lot. And so. I appreciate everything for you and all the comments that I received, and I hope you come back.
So I'm gonna let you go there. And if this again, have been helpful, let me know. And until next time, take care of yourself.