Turning Annoying Worry Into Helpful Worry


Helpful and Unhelpful Worry: What’s The Difference?


Worry can be really annoying in day to day life. It can distract us, keep us awake, and cause us to feel tense and on edge, but worry in and of itself isn’t actually bad, in fact in certain circumstances it can actually be quite helpful. Stick with me. As unrealistic as it sounds, annoying worry can be turned into helpful worry, the only proviso being that the worry has to meet these two criteria:

Is the worry about a problem that’s solvable?

Is the worry motivating me to take action?

Some worry isn’t solvable – like worry about the possibility of contracting a life threatening illness – but some worries are solvable.  Take for example,  worry about a presentation at work.  Dedicating time to the presentation, practicing the presentation ahead of time, and seeking feedback from peers might all help to reduce your worry, so in this sense the worry is solvable.

Does your worry help or hinder?

Does your worry help or hinder?

The second criteria relates to how worry affects us. Let’s say two people are worried about an upcoming exam.  Person A notices this worry and pulls out her books to study.  Person B notices the worry and gets stuck thinking about how unprepared she is and the possibility of failure. Person A’s worry is motivating – it drives her to brush up on the exam material she’s least familiar with, but Person B’s worry prompts an unrelenting cycle of rumination which has a detrimental affect on her self-confidence and motivation.

The take home is this.  If you notice yourself worrying, before you go any further, ask yourself if your worry is solvable and if it can be used to motivate action.  If your worry is solvable, sit down and brainstorm possible solutions (see our blog on problem solving for more help).  If your worry can’t be solved, consider setting aside some Worry Time – a time each day (no more than 30-minutes) where you’re allowed to sit down and do nothing but worry.  

If worries pop up outside your brainstorming sessions, defer them to your Worry Time.  Some people worry that having an allocated time for worry will make them worry more, but what Worry Time actually does is helps you to make room for worry without letting it ruin your day.  A lot of people also find that Worry Time helps them to better discriminate between solvable and unsolvable worries, which helps them to worry less overall.  Give it a try. What have you go to lose?

Natalie is a warm and compassionate registered psychologist with a Masters of Clinical Psychology degree who is experienced in various evidence-based therapeutic modalities, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). She specialises in working with adults and teens experiencing major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, grief and loss, identity concerns, relationship difficulties, and stressful life events in general.


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