OCD and Chronic Worrying: How to Cope

Many of us experience “what if” thoughts daily, but we understand that these thoughts don’t always align with what we know about ourselves. So we often forget about them and go on with our day.

But for those living with OCD, these thoughts can become stuck and become a compulsion, says John Carnesecchi, a licensed social worker based in New York City.

“The compulsive, repetitive behavior that characterizes many cases of OCD is commonly driven by fearful ‘what if’ thoughts,” explains John F. Tholen, PhD, author of “Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind.”

If you’re having unwanted thoughts, like, “what if I have cancer?” this can create the compulsion to seek unnecessary medical scans, says Tholen.

Our minds create hypothetical catastrophes, and those thoughts often prompt people with OCD to solve problems that don’t yet exist, says Tholen. “Repetitive, compulsive actions are impelled because it seems too reckless to ignore warnings of impending disaster.”

Other examples of “what if” thoughts can include:

  • What if I lose my job?
  • What if my partner leaves me?
  • What if I have a heart attack?
  • What if I have a panic attack?
  • What if I fail my exam?

One way to manage “what if” thoughts is to find and adopt a good strategy for addressing them, says Tholen. Here are some tips to help you manage and regulate your thinking process.