Stress & Anxiety

“Why Do I Assume the Worst-Case Scenario?” How to Stop the ADHD Mind from Worrying

ADHD brains typically expect the worst, and stressful times and situations just further encourage and validate this negative thinking. Monitoring our thoughts and actively seeking the good are essential strategies now for managing worry before it spirals out of control.

Q: “Why does my ADHD brain always expect the worst outcome? Right now, the climate seems to be in trouble, as is my job. Then there’s the pandemic. I wear a mask, wash my hands, and keep my distance from others, but my daughter worries that I am going to catch it. So I get more worried. How can I look at things more positively?”

It’s normal to fear the unknown and feel anxious about the present. The fight-or-flight response is an evolutionary process that helps to keep us safe. Psychologists have labeled this predisposition “negativity bias.” But when worry and negative thoughts become excessive, they affect our quality of life.

People with ADHD have very active minds that overthink things. We can come up with disastrous scenarios and permutations of each scenario that are scarier than the original, building worry upon worry. Anxiety over potential problems can snowball, resulting in bad decisions. While negativity bias affects us in particular, there are things we can do to think more positively.

How to Stop Worrying with an ADHD Brain

1. Reframe negative situations.

Negative experiences are powerful and get stored quickly into long-term memory. Reframing a negative situation can make it less powerful and worrisome.

Getting a speeding ticket will ruin your day if you focus on the fine you have to pay. But if you reframe it as a reminder to drive more carefully, the sting of the fine hurts less.

[Read: How to Untangle Your Web Of “What Ifs”]

The same thinking can be applied to your uncertain situation at work. Yes, it’s worrisome, but it is a reminder to avoid distractions, to increase your productivity, and lessen your chances of being laid off. Fortify your confidence with positive self-talk. Make a list of the reasons they should keep you, including the great projects you were a part of, and the ways your company has benefited from your hard work.

One of my favorite ways to change a negative, worrisome thought is to follow it with the word “but” and a calm, rational response. Example: If you are saying to yourself, “I know I’m going to be laid off,” follow that with “but” I was qualified enough to get this job, and now that I have more experience, I will be even better qualified to get the next job, if I need to.”

2. Recognize the thought patterns that contribute to worry.

You may not realize how the habitual routes your thoughts take are actually guiding you to a place of anxiety and worry. Noticing the following cognitive distortions can help you lean away from negative thoughts and toward neutral, positive reactions:

  • “All or Nothing” Thinking: Nothing is black and white. Find a middle ground.
  • Overgeneralizing: Don’t build a single negative into the worst possible outcome. Look for positives to counteract the situation.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Avoid mind-reading and projecting, which only intensify worry.
  • Emotional Thinking: How bad we feel is not the measure of how bad things really are. Pause, breathe, and allow room for rational thoughts to guide your decision-making and choices.
  • Catastrophizing: Exaggerating fuels worry and makes the negative aspects of a situation bigger than they really are.
  • “Should” Statements: These statements exacerbate bad feelings. Instead, ask yourself, “What is the best choice I can make right now?”

[Related Reading: Putting a Stop to Distorted Thoughts]

3. Savor the good times.

To overcome worry, give importance to good, positive events by savoring them. Going through old family photos with your daughter and remembering the fun of a special birthday or vacation will remind both of you that life is good, despite its bad days.

Slow down to be fully present and in the moment, instead of worrying about tomorrow or fretting about yesterday. Career moms have a lot to think about, but when we allow ourselves a trip down memory lane, life seems a little more carefree.

4. Choose mindfulness.

Mindfulness, meditation and relaxation exercises train us to slow down and be present. Yoga or stretching exercises with your daughter will help you both. When you start to worry, be it about the company cutting personnel or anything else, bring your attention to your feet. Feel your feet on the floor; feel your back against the chair. Pause. Bring your attention back to what’s in front of you. Staying busy can stop worry from spiraling.

How to Stop Worrying: Next Steps for Adults with ADHD

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