How to handle worry over a new situation

For overthinkers new situations can exacerbate our already busy mind. We get caught up in our own thoughts and find it hard to concentrate on anything besides what is coming up.

Much of what we are thinking may be unhelpful or detrimental. We get caught in a cycle of negative thought as we fret over this new situation without addressing exactly what is making us worry. Or we may spend our time worrying without stopping to think if this is a reasonable worry or even how we could prepare for it.

New situations make us feel that we are not in control and that can be scary. But we can steer our thoughts to help us identify what is making us stressed and then make a plan to handle it. We can take back control.

Write out an overview of what you will be doing

Start by writing down a general summary of what you will be doing and why it is making you worry or overthink.

Just writing or saying out loud what is going to happen can help you start to put things in perspective. It is no longer a jumble of words, images, and ideas, this is the start of facing the new situation head on and organizing your thoughts.

Example – Appointment
I have an appointment tomorrow, this is an office I have not been to before. I am worried about finding the place and getting there on time.

Example – Presentation
I am giving a presentation tomorrow to new people I have not presented to before. I am worried about setting up and remembering what to say.

Write out the scenario

Once you have a short summary of what you will be doing, write down the steps that it entails.

You can work on visualizing the steps in your head and writing them down. You can also talk out loud to yourself or someone else and explain the steps you see yourself taking.

Writing out the scenario can help you get a better sense of what parts are causing you worry. It can also help you realize the many ways in which you are already prepared and identify other ways you may be able to prepare to ease your worry.

The goal is not to plan out every minor detail, but rather start to identify the specific parts that are causing you stress.

Thinking through the scenario can help you see that you are more in control that you realize.

Example – Appointment

The night before I will make sure my insurance card is in my bag.

The appointment is at 9 so I will leave my house around 8:30.

I will fill a water bottle before I go and bring it with me.

I will drive to the highway and then take exit 13, the building is about 3 miles down on the right.

When I get in I will give my name and appointment time.

When the appointment is over I will get back in my car and pull up directions to work.

Example – Presentation

The night before I will: print out my notes and put them in my bag, pack my lunch, and pick out my clothes.

I will email myself the presentation to ensure I have it.

I will fill my water bottle in the morning to bring with me.

I will plan to leave for work 10 minutes early so I have a little extra time to get settled.

When I get to my desk I will write the meeting room and time on the top of my notes.

I will get to the room a few minutes early and pull up my presentation.

I will go through my presentation and answer any questions.

I will leave my email address so people can get in contact if they have any other questions.

Come up with questions

As you look over your scenario, pick out what specifically makes you worry or what information is missing that would help you feel more prepared. Come up with questions that encapsulate those thoughts.

By putting the things you are worried about into words you can face head on the things that you are worried about. We can put off bringing up what makes us worry because then it means we have to confront something that we do not know how to handle.

This is a chance for you to trust yourself. Trust that you are more capable of handling and preparing for new situations than you think. 

This is a chance for you to trust yourself enough to be vulnerable with yourself.

Example – Appointment
What if I get there early?
What if I get lost?
What if I get there late?
What if the appointment takes longer than I thought?

Example – Presentation
What if I forget my presentation?
What if I forget what to say?
What if I don’t know how to answer a question?

Work on coming up with answers

Look over your questions and start by filling in the answers you have right away. You may not have a full answer, but you may have a start. 

When we overthink we can tend to doubt ourselves and not give ourselves enough credit for how prepared we are and how much we already know. Sometimes it is simply a matter of tapping into that answer. By thinking up some answers before issues come up we can get out brain in a problem solving mode.

For questions that you do not know the answer to, think about talking it through with someone else or looking it up online. You may be surprised to see by simply typing your question into a search engine how many others have asked a similar question.

Example – Appointment

What if I get there early?
If I get there early I can sit in my car and check my email or play a game.

What if I get lost?
If I get lost then I need to remember the most important thing is that I get to the appointment safely, even if that means I get there late. If I need to I will pull into a parking lot, call the office and bring up directions on my phone.

What if I get there late?
If I get there late I will apologize. Depending on how late I am I may need to reschedule my appointment.

What if the appointment takes longer than I thought?
If the appointment takes longer than expected I can either call or email work letting them know when the appointment is over and that I am heading into work. I can always let my supervisor know the day before my appointment that I am not sure exactly how long it will take.

Example – Presentation

What if I forget my presentation?
I will have emailed it to myself the night before and I can also put it on a flash drive and bring that into work. I will write myself a reminder to check that I have my presentation as soon as I get into work so I have time to get it if needed.

What if I forget what to say?
I will work to avoid this by practicing my presentation a few days before I present. I will also incorporate keywords into my presentation that can help prompt my train of thought. If I completely forget what I wanted to say I will let people know that I will come back to that slide and move on to another slide to get my train of thought back.

What if I don’t know how to answer a question?
I will let them know that I will look into it and get back to them. I do not need to know everything right when someone asks, I can work to get the answer. I will write it down and look into it after the presentation.

What to do after

Every time you are in a new situation you have a chance to learn, including learning about yourself.

Instead of seeing new situations as a challenge you must endure, try to reframe your thinking and see it as a chance to go someplace new, learn a new skill, practice a skill, make a new connection, or simply be open to whatever life brings.

After the event or after getting back home consider taking some time to take stock of how things went. Your mind will want to focus on the negative, but work to think first about what went well and what you learned. The fact that you did something new and possibly went outside your comfort zone is something you should give yourself credit for.

Think about what preparations helped, what unexpected things came up, overall how it went, and what you took away.

There will always be unknowns

For many of us who are anxious or who overthink, we want to know what we are getting into in any given situation. We want to believe that if we think enough or plan enough then we will not be as worried or stressed. We want it to be that if we put in enough time and energy we can have accounted for everything and be truly prepared.

One of the difficult truth that many of us have a hard time being comfortable with is the fact that there will always be unknowns and things that happen that are either beyond our control or something we did not even think of.

One thing that can help us be more grounded and feel less at the whim of the universe is to think about the things over which we have control. Just because some things are out of our control does not mean everything is. It can be easy for us to focus on what we do not have control over, even if there are many things over which we do have control.

What you can do

Keep track of what you have control over. You do not need to write out a whole scenario, you can just make a list. You can keep the list in your head or write it down and refer to it as needed.

Some things you have control over:

Some things you have control over

How I talk to myself

What music I listen to

How I move my body

What I wear

How and when I communicate with others

How I communicate with myself

How I handle mistakes

How adaptable I am to change

How I react to things

When I decide to ask questions


Prepare, but do not become hyper-focused.

As important as it is to prepare, we should work to not let ourselves get so hyper-focused that we try to plan out each and every minute detail. Life is uncertain and there will always be things that we cannot control or plan for.

If you are worried about over preparing, consider talking things through with someone else or setting a time limit. Having an outside perspective can help us get to a comfortable level of planning.

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