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Overcoming Dread: How to Stop Visualizing Bad Things

Let’s talk about dread, the sniveling cousin of fear.

Recently I’ve noticed my tendency to create little “worst case scenarios” in my mind when I’m worried or uncomfortable about something.

Perhaps you, too, are familiar with this gloomy emotion that can feel like a pesky, insistent dark cloud.

Eliza Cross hiding under the covers in bed.

Imagining the Worst

As I was preparing for a recent trip, I noticed my tendency to envision all sorts of worst case scenarios: 

  • My alarm won’t go off.
  • Security lines will be long at the airport.
  • I’ll miss my flight. I’ll miss my connection.
  • The overhead bins will be full on the plane.
  • Planes are full of germs, and I’ll get sick.

Do you ever do this? Experts call it “catastrophizing.”

People who like to feel in control (meekly raising my hand!) are more prone to imagining worst case scenarios, and this tendency can be linked to anxiety.

It’s worse at night (have you noticed?), when all problems can loom large. What’s the solution?

Since dread may cause us to procrastinate or experience unnecessary stress, I’ve been trying to examine when and why it shows up my own life.

Things I Dread

See if you can relate to any of these:

A situation where I don’t feel in control. It might be going to a party where I don’t know many people, or imagining worst-case scenarios when a loved one is traveling, or waiting for the results from a medical test.

An uncompleted project. Doing the taxes. Finishing the writing of an article that doesn’t feel like it’s flowing. Tackling a disorganized garage.

A future discomfort. A mammogram. A root canal. A colonoscopy.

A tough conversation. Asking for a raise. Working through a conflict. Talking about finances.

6 Ways To Overcome Dread

These are some practical strategies to chase the dark clouds away:

1. Become Aware

If we recognize when we’re feeling dread and can sit quietly and face it, we may lessen its grip. Deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness exercises are all ways to become more present and examine what we’re feeling and why.

2. Make Up a Better Story

If I’m tossing and turning the night before an early departure for a trip, I might instead redirect my brain to imagine myself seated on the airplane, feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy my travels.

3. Say a Prayer

Prayer is a great mystery, but this verse is a good, simple prayer that always helps my brain and soul return to a calmer place: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power and of love and of a good mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLV)

4. Take One Action

If I’m dreading a task, doing something is often the thing that brings relief. If the chore is a biggie like “organize the garage,” I turn on my timer and tackle the task for 15 minutes. Just getting started helps.

5. Laugh

I love the phrase “comic relief.” Laughter always helps me put things in perspective. (For example, Dave Barry’s article about his colonoscopy is a must-read.)

6. Talk to a Professional

If anxiety feels like it’s becoming excessive or turning into a daily problem, a visit to a counselor or health care provider may be in order.

How About You?

Are there things in your life that sometimes cause you to feel dread? Do you have any strategies to add to my list? I always love hearing your perspective and ideas.

You might also enjoy reading “Microburst Your Way to Success,” about how 15 minute bursts of focus can help us accomplish great things.

How about you? Do you ever imagine the worst? I’d love to hear your experiences and coping strategies, so drop a comment below.

Here’s to less dread, imagining the best, and enjoying more peace in the days ahead.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 17 books, including Small Bites and 101 Things To Do With Bacon. She shares ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, time and money. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

4 thoughts on “Overcoming Dread: How to Stop Visualizing Bad Things”

  1. I dread really difficult event photo shoots, like a graduation of 5,000 college students I shot last month. I make triple sure I think of every possible scenario, bring way more gear than I need, ask tons of questions of my client, and lose quite a bit of sleep. I have learned this is the process, including the sleepless night, I have to go through. And in the end, all of the prep work makes the shoot a lot easier. I find that dread is just a part of the process.

    • “I find that dread is just part of the process.” This is a brilliant observation, Povy. You’ve learned to harness a positive aspect of dread and use it to be well-prepared. Thanks for sharing this. (I can NOT imagine a photo shoot with 5,000 college students. You are amazing.) xo

  2. Oh yes… the dreaded dread monster! For me, it’s projects where I’m doing something out of my comfort zone and I’m afraid I’m going to really mess it up. I feel physically nauseous throughout the whole ordeal and generally have to talk my way through it… like talking out loud to myself to gear up to face it and then the whole way through I say things like “It’s OK. Remember to breathe. You can do this. If you break it you can always call in a professional.”

    But now that you mention it… today I replaced a light fixture. This is not something I’d done before and normally it would have completely filled me with dread. But for some reason, it didn’t really feel like that big of a deal today. Honestly, it seemed like the easy way out compared to trying to fix the old one! I don’t know what it means, but I’m gonna take it as evidence of progress! 🙂

  3. When I have something to do like an unpleasant phone call or task, I set a time frame for it. At 11:00 I will make my call or 11:00 is my appointment time with the weeds. I also include it on a list of things I want to accomplish that day. Of course the dreadful thing is always left to last, but crossing it off a list gives you satisfaction that you have accomplished something.


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