I can't stop thinking about bad things that could happen

Jessica Kennedy, Mental Health America

There are a couple things that could be going on here.

First, you may be experiencing real, expected fear or anxiety about an upcoming event. If (like the main character from the movie Office Space) you left behind evidence that you stole from your company on a Friday and you know you’re about to be fired on a Monday…yes, it’s probably natural and realistic to obsess over the negative consequences to your life. You might also be worried about a relative in the ICU dying and what might happen to their family if that’s the case. It’s possible that thinking about bad things is a proportional response to your circumstances in life. If that’s the case, you should seek out distraction. There’s nothing that worrying can do for someone (although that’s easier said than done.)

It’s possible that your concern is about someone you care about, like a friend, child, or boyfriend/girlfriend. Maybe you’re obsessed with the decisions that person is making because you think those decisions are bad or harmful. While it’s normal to worry about people we care about, you may be crossing the line into codependency.  If you’re constantly worried about or obsessed with someone else, you’re going to hurt yourself. You can’t control someone else’s behavior—you can only control your own.

But you may also:

  • Think about bad things happening again and again and again;
  • Find those thoughts distressing and unwanted;
  • Recognize those thoughts are not really justified or rational; or
  • Be unable to get rid of those thoughts.

If that’s what is going on, you may be experiencing what we call intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are constant, disturbing, and unwanted.

Often, intrusive thoughts can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

It’s also possible that you are experiencing symptoms of paranoia, which could be a sign of psychosis, bipolar disorder, or other conditions.

Or, if you are a new parent, you may be experiencing post-partum depression, anxiety, or psychosis. It’s normal to worry about a newborn (after all, they can’t take care of themselves), but not to the point that it’s affecting your ability to sleep or live your life.

If you have intrusive thoughts, it’s good to bring them up with a doctor or a therapist. Even if you don’t have a mental health condition, they may be able to help teach you coping skills (especially a therapist).

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