What If: The Dangers of Future Tripping

Future tripping, or obsessing and worrying about the future, is a part of the human experience. Most people cannot help but obsess and worry about the “what if’s” in life. When things do not go as planned, some people may feel high levels of anxiety or stress. This lack of control over the future can lead to destructive behaviors to try and deal with stressful situations.

Wondering about the “what if’s” in life tend to occur more frequently amongst adolescents. This is because they are not fully autonomous individuals. Parents still have a huge influence on most of the individual’s major decisions. Adolescents constantly worry about their future and struggle when reacting in situations that do not go as planned. They are not necessarily aware of the present moment and do not know how to react in difficult situations in positive ways.

The Dangers of Future Tripping

Future tripping can lead to destructive behaviors for adolescents trying to cope with the demands of life. Obsessing and worrying about the future may lead adolescents to engage in destructive eating patterns such as binge-eating, purging, or not eating at all to try and gain back control. Eating is an action that many people feel they can control. Consequently, adolescents may engage in harmful eating behaviors to try and cope with their fear of future outcomes.

Adolescents are worrying about their friends, self-image, school, and their social media posts. They obsess over negative outcomes and feel anxious about what is coming next. They compare themselves to their peers and perhaps feel a lot of pressure from the demands of family and school. They may struggle with understanding what positive actions they can take in the present moment to make a difficult situation better.

Adolescents and Mindfulness

For many adolescents, not having the ability to control every detail of their future inhibits them from focusing on the present moment. They become fearful of the future and obsess over negative outcomes. It is important for the individual to learn how to take action in the present moment to prevent worry and fear of the future. Adolescents need to practice staying mindful in situations that elicit the stress response.

Questions Individuals Should Practice Answering to Avoid Future Tripping:

~“How can I react in this moment in a positive, realistic way?”

~“What are some ways I can improve this situation with what I currently know/have?”

~“Are there people in my life that can help me in this situation?”

~“Is the outcome of this situation out of my control? If so, how can I be content with it and move on?”

~“What are some positive activities I enjoy that will help reduce my stress and anxiety in this moment?”

Helpful Tips to Prevent Future Tripping:

  1. Practice mindfulness. Take a step back and understand the present moment. Actively think about actions you can do to improve your situation and suppress your worry. What can you actually control in this situation? Practice meditation, yoga, or go for a walk. You are better at solving problems and reducing your worry when you calm your mind and body.
  1. Practice activities in self-compassion. It is an amazing thing to not look exactly like everyone else. This makes you unique! You will find that if you love yourself, you will have more positive thoughts and an appreciation for the present moment.
  1. Try self-soothing techniques. Do positive things you enjoy to comfort yourself. If things do not go as planned, react to the present moment by giving yourself time to create goals and solutions for yourself. Instead of thinking of the worst possible outcome, do something productive that will comfort yourself. Call a friend, take a bath, watch netflix, or go hiking.
  1. Be willing to adapt. Things will not always go as planned. In addition, everyone feels stressed and anxious on a daily basis. It is a part of being human. A little bit of stress also helps to ignite a fire in you to take action to make your situation better. Be willing to be open minded and adapt as a result. The best things that can happen to you will not always be planned.
  1. Talk to a specialist. If your constant worry about the future is impacting your health, it is absolutely essential to talk to a specialist who can help you to cope with difficult situations.

Authored by Greta Gleissner, LCSW and Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists (EDRS). EDRS is a nationwide meal support and coaching program that provides services alongside treatment programs and outpatient providers. EDRS specialized in meal coaching, clinical coaching, in-home cooking, and therapeutic exposures 7 days a week; days, evenings, and weekends. In recovery since 2001, Ms. Gleissner has firsthand knowledge of the challenges individuals face in the eating disorder recovery process, particularly during transitions.

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