Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Is there such a thing as productive worry?
That is a tough question to answer, because the answer may not be what you think.
Worry is a concept that is driven by many factors like: anxiety and fear, genetics, learned behaviors, assumptions, or a general sense that you can control things.
Throughout my time in practice as a therapist, I have noticed people fall on a spectrum with this. On one hand, I have heard “I have always been a worrier,” while the other says, “I just fix the problem.”
Both are very common responses. The problem is, they’re not black and white solutions.
The, “I’ve always been a worrier,” person who believes worry prepares them or prevents surprises, is left in the land of “what ifs.” What ifs encompass infinite possibilities, which leaves them a lot to worry about.
The person who believes they can “just fix the problem” believes they have control without personal limitations. Not every problem has an immediate solution or has a solution that is less than desired, (for example, a job loss, diagnosis of illness or terminal illness, relationship dysfunction, etc.)
Think about your worry in two camps – productive and unproductive:
Signs of Unproductive Worry
1. Worrying about unanswerable questions
2. Worry about succession of events
3. Rejecting a possible answer because it is not “perfect”
4. Thinking your worry will eventually make you feel less anxious
5. Believing worry controls everything
Signs of Productive “Worry”
1. There is a problem with an answer
2. Focusing on a single event versus a chain of events
3. Willing to accept less than “perfect” solutions
4. Not using anxiety as your guide
5. Recognizing what you can & cannot control
So, if you want to change your Unproductive Worry into Productive “Worry”
· Pass up unanswerable questions for questions that can be answered
· Focus on specific events rather than strings of events
· Consider different solutions, even those that aren’t perfect
· Deal with your anxiety – don’t expect it to fix anything
· Identify the things you can control and invest your time and energy there
Your homework for today: The next time today, that you notice one of the Signs of Unproductive Worry pop up, call it out and change it into something productive. Find ways to turn your unproductive worry into something productive today.
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