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How to Think About the Future Without Being Overwhelmed

If you’ve ever laid in bed and thought about whether or not God is real, or you’ve thought back on one mistake you’ve made and wondered how your life would be different had you done something different, you’ve probably felt that pit forming in your stomach. I’ve definitely done this, and that sickening feeling isn’t one I’m a fan of. I get this feeling when thinking about the future. Here are some techniques I’ve incorporated in my life to make thinking about the future a little less horrible.

Check yourself.

One of the first steps to not getting overwhelming is to give yourself a reality check. Why are you worrying about the future? Is there an underlying reason why this worry came up, or is this just you worrying to worry?

If you’re like me, worrying to worry is one hundred percent a thing, and it’s the reason I worry almost one hundred percent of the time. While it seems obvious, the first thing that should be done is to check yourself. If worrying and stressing about the future is overwhelming, really look at what’s causing that. If it’s something meaningless and counterproductive, find something more meaningful and productive to spend your time thinking about.

Find something productive.

Often, I’ll start worrying because I have a lot to get done in a given week, and it’ll spiral into “I have a lot to get done this month” and eventually it will become “wow I have to graduate at some point how is that possible?”

It’s a lot more useful for me to set aside those terrifying thoughts of how am I ever going to buy a house and have a career,  rather than finishing that paper that’s due at 11:59 tonight that initiated those spiraling thoughts.

But what happens when those thoughts come creeping in because you’re alone and there is no underlying theme? What if you’ve gotten everything you need done for the week so the stress is just there with no real cause?

This is when I tell myself to just simply find something to do. If I need to chill, I’ll watch some YouTube. If I need to just be totally away from my thoughts, I’ll work out (I know this is something everyone suggests, but even if actually working out doesn’t make you feel any better, you’ll likely feel good knowing you got yourself some exercise). If I’m stressing about money or all the debt I’m going to be in, I usually will see if there’s any work shifts I can pick up or I’ll look for scholarships to apply for (although this occurrence is rare because sometimes the stress of work and applying for scholarships is enough to set my overwhelmed state right back where it started).

Make a plan (or two).

Planning is what keeps me sane; lists make everything seem doable. I love to have a plan. So when the future starts to overwhelm me, I start to make a plan, even if it’s just a rough draft. When I start to worry about graduating on time, I’ll go and look at my sheet that has my Hamline Plan so I can tangibly see where I’m at in regards to graduation, and then I’ll go look up potential courses to fulfill my plan and major and write them down.

Even if things change (which they will), the planning and list making will not only provide an outline for the next time these thoughts come up, but they will grant temporary relief from the stress of thinking about the future.

The basics but essentials.

If you’ve done these things and still find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed, do what the top Google searches will likely tell you to do. Drink some tea (and if you don’t really love tea like me, you probably just haven’t found the right kind yet. Cinnamon black tea is awesome if you’re not a green tea drinker!), focus on your breathing and get some rest if you feel ready.

If you don’t live in the dorms, take a bath, light a candle and cook your favorite meal. Each of these things will not only provide another distraction from overwhelming thoughts about the future, but they will help calm and clear your mind.

As cliche as it may be, just trust that everything will be okay. You will graduate, and if you don’t, you will find a career outside of this. You will buy a home and a car if that’s your goal, or you’ll travel the world and see everything. You will use your degree, or you won’t. But whether you believe in God or the stars or the universe, or you really don’t know what this whole life thing means, know that there is a plan for you, and that plan involves your complete success and happiness as long as you’re willing to work for it.

Molly is currently a junior at Hamline University who is studying English, Professional Writing and Communications.
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