Imagine Not Worrying: How to Stop Scaring Yourself

Man holding forehead“Why are you out of bed?”
“I’m scared.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“There’s a monster under my bed!”
“There are no monsters. Go back to bed.”
“Nooooooo, I’m scared.”
Sound familiar? Almost every parent has done this. Holding a little hand, down on your hands and knees with a flashlight to prove there is nothing under the bed—unless you count the stray sock, a missing toy, and a few dust bunnies.

Your little one thinks you are a superhero. You faced the monster and saved the day, or in this case, the night. With imagination tamed, feeling safe and secure, your child falls asleep.

Imagination is an amazing thing. Children hone it to a fine art. With a towel on their shoulders and a leap from the couch, they fly!! They feed you imaginary sandwiches and wipe imaginary crumbs from your chin. They introduce you to friends only they can see. They scare themselves at bedtime. Years pass, towels are used for bathing, imaginary sandwiches and friends are forgotten. Monsters no longer hide under the bed. Reality replaces imagination.

Or does it? Many adults continue to exercise their imagination. They don’t have towels on their shoulders or imaginary friends, but they do believe in monsters created entirely with their imagination. Your child, no longer afraid of monsters, is a teenager now. You worry she doesn’t take school seriously, or her current boyfriend is a bad influence, or her college fund isn’t going to be enough. Get the picture?

Adults may not imagine monsters under the bed, but they do imagine a multitude of scenarios that would scare Freddy Krueger, and it’s socially acceptable. A vivid imagination is never questioned if the name is changed from imagination to worry. It is commonly accepted that everyone worries; it’s part of being a responsible adult. How else can you be prepared when the unthinkable happens? If you have played out the worst-case scenarios in your mind, you are ready to deal with them.

Worry is as useful for you as monsters under the bed were for your child. You make things up in your head, believe them, and scare yourself. Who will take you by the hand, shine the flashlight on your imaginary fears, and make them disappear?

Worry is using your thinking to predict the future or to continue to relive the past. Predictions rarely come true, and if they do, worry did not change the outcome. It only made you miserable before the outcome happened. How much have you changed the past by worrying about it? Unless you conquered time travel, it doesn’t work. The past is past. It doesn’t change and it doesn’t cause you pain unless you bring it into your present by thinking about it. So the monsters (worries) of the future and the past are simply you using your imagination to scare yourself. Seems a bit silly, doesn’t it?

Worry (scaring yourself with your imagination) raises your level of tension and lowers your mood. From that low state of mind you expect to find solutions to your problems. It won’t happen. High tension and low mood doesn’t make for good problem solving—ever. Recognizing that you are scaring yourself helps the worries go away. You shine the flashlight on your fears and recognize they are imaginary. From a calmer state of mind, you deal with problems as they occur rather than in the future or the past.

Related articles:
Don’t Worry – Be Happy!
Self-Soothe in Your Own Compassionate Hammock
Mindfulness Practice: Learning to Live in the Moment

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  • gardner v

    gardner v

    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    How is it that something that is seen as so valuable is so highly discouraged when we get to adulthood?Having a vivid imagination is praised when you are a child, but if you have this same sort of imagination after you reach a certain age, then people always compel you to just grow up.

  • Leslie W.

    Leslie W.

    July 25th, 2017 at 5:28 AM

    Imagination is discouraged when children are young. Now it is being drugged out of them because of labels of ADD and ADHD. So sad to see this happening. As adults we are judged by everyone and if you are different labeled strange, weird, etc. And we let it bother us and stifle. GO, DO, USE THAT IMAGINATION! At the end of the day you will regret the things you DID NOT do or try and the negativity will not matter especially that in your own head!!! So, GO, DO, TRY!!!

  • Leslie

    Leslie

    July 24th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    I wish that I could yalk myself out of being such a worry wart but that nvever seems to happen for me. It’s just kind of my natural state, kind of like if I don’t think that I have worried baout something enough then THAT worries me that something could be going on. I think that this is just my natural tendency to worry, and my husband is more laid back, so that kind of maes us a better match for each other, don’t you think? It’s not like I think that this impairs my life, and I don’t really see that I would be any happier if I didn’t hyper focus on things. It makes me feel more thorough this way.

  • Jo G

    Jo G

    July 24th, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Sounds like a perfect world- now if only I could get there!

  • audrey

    audrey

    July 25th, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Isn’t it funny how something that brings you endless hours of fun and play as a kid can really haunt you as an adult when that imagination turns to something negative?
    We change those good imaginative thoughts of anticipation into fears of what could happen if. And we all know that is not good for anyone to get into doing that.

  • maylin f

    maylin f

    November 9th, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    I would love to ” put my mind blank ” like many people & mental health specialist have said to me ,but I don’t know how to do that ??? I have tried so many times & I have not been successful :(:(:( I cannot avoid it do not know how to stop my mind how to not worry. Know adults must have s plan of action,responsible people want acheive the best for them.and their love ones .one can not predict the future ,God has a plan for all of us and one has to have faith & patience,I’m not a super reglious person but has accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. I ask the Lord to please guide,give piece of mind( meaning to live.my life fully ,enjoy every possible moment,which I’m not ) I been blessed with a loving ,supportive family,health good job many things the Lord has given me,however I worried ( if all my thoughts I would be writing forever) all my worries/ thoughts are infinitive never ending…… I have ask for God to help ( Ge always listen ) I have gone to a physiologist & currently going to go and still have not seen any improvement

  • Debbie Trent

    Debbie Trent

    November 10th, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    Sometimes it helps to know that you cannot stop thoughts – they pop into our heads and trying to insist that they not do that just brings them more into focus. The best thing that I know is when bad thoughts come to mind, is to recognize,”Oh there is that thought again.” But then do something that will distract your thinking rather than worrying about the thought being there again. It can be anything from watching a TV comedy, to cleaning the oven, to calling a friend. Do anything other than just set and let the thoughts in your head go on in an eternal rerun – you already know how its going to go, you’ve watched that one many, many times. It does get easier with practice. I hope that helps.

  • @NikkSchwartzVB

    @NikkSchwartzVB

    November 16th, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Great point about an overactive imagination morphing into worry and anxiety as adults. As PPs pointed out, I am not sure what to do with intrusive thoughts that continue to plague clients. Do you have specific suggestions on how to “shine the flashlight” on their worry? Great post, btw. I love the analogy and I will definitely use it in the future.

  • Hayley

    Hayley

    March 6th, 2015 at 2:12 PM

    Why don’t we talk about what happens if imagination stops?

  • Kelly

    Kelly

    October 5th, 2016 at 4:02 AM

    negative thinking patterns stem from our belief systems, in order to change them, we need to identify them.

  • Ron

    Ron

    December 11th, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    What is the difference between worry and planning, or trying to find a solution to a difficult problem?

    For a low income worker for instance, how is trying to find a way to save for your child’s college, or your retirement different from worry?

  • Debbie Trent

    Debbie Trent

    December 17th, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    Nikk and Ron,

    I apologize for not responding to your comments sooner. The way to tell the difference between worry and planning is to notice how it feels. Worry results in feelings that are unpleasant. You may feel your body tension, or a knot in your stomach, or the beginning of a headache. It just feels bad. It also feels hopeless or stuck.

    Planning is a more positive feeling of anticipation or knowing you are making progress, even if it is small. Planning comes with a sense of knowing you are doing something that is a step in the right direction.

    Worry is like a dog chasing it’s tail, running in circles and going no where. It is seeing the problem over and over, but no possible solutions.

    Planning might be making long and short term goals, even if the short term goals (using Ron’s example) might be researching scholarship grant possibilities for the child’s college or talking to a counselor at a local college to explore options.

    Worrying about retirement would be following the same negative thoughts of things like “there is no way I can save, I can’t even pay my bills now, there is nothing I can do”. Planning on the other hand might be, “Within the next six-months I will research ways people make money selling things on ebay and I will use that money for my retirement” or “I will see if any free classes are available that could sharpen my skills so I can get a better job so I can begin to save for retirement”.

    Worry usually doesn’t move us in a good direction, planning does. I hope that is helpful.

  • Austin

    Austin

    May 30th, 2015 at 1:20 AM

    Goos fraba I need to chill out my mind NEEDS TO CALM DOWN!! Got to stop worrying why is my brain throwing some non evidential info in to me brain why am I having this random ass momeny

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