beyond worry

Going beyond worry

In this article I explain one simple way to reduce the power any single worry might have over you. The technique involves defusing from the worry and focusing on the underlying concern instead.

What is a worry?

A worry is a catastrophic judgment about future events that creates anxiety. Most worries are simplistic, selective, exaggerated ideas that paralyse the listener from taking action.

The difference between a worry and a concern

A worry is something you can’t do anything about. For example: I worry that my children won’t be happy. A concern is something specific you can do now (or decide upon now) to influence the issue. For example: I can talk to my children about the things they want to do this summer.

Different types of worry

A worry typically has one or more of these features:

1. Predictions of disaster:

Example: I am going bankrupt

Concern: How can I improve my financial position today?

2. Hopelessness

Example: I can’t cope any more

Concern: What one thing can I do today that will make things better?

3. Over-generalization

Example: I always mess things up

Concern: How can I learn to do X better?

4. Self-judgment

Example: I am a complete failure

Concern: How can I pass the test next time?

5. Perfectionism

Example: I can’t make any mistakes

Concern: What is the acceptable margin of error on this task?

7. Self-blaming

Example: It’s all my fault

Concern: How can I put my mistake right?

Here are a few more tips to help you distinguish between the two:

  1. If it is a worry it will frighten you; if it is a concern it will focus you
  2. Concerns foster decision-making; worries foster paralysis
  3. Worries leave you powerless; concerns alert you to what to do next
  4. Concerns focus on potential solutions; worries on disasters
  5. Worries are all about the past and future; concerns are about the here and now
  6. Concerns are motivational; worries give you anxiety
  7. Worries tell you that you can’t cope; concerns tell you that you can

Addressing concerns undermines your worry

One reason why exaggerated worries seem more real than they actually are is that the unaddressed concern  seems to give them some reality.

For example. I might have a concern about this article: namely, that it won’t be readable. Were that the case then there are a number of things I can do about that: read examples of good writing, get a friend to check it, or use a writing aid. But the associated worry ‘I will never learn to write‘ gets off on the genuine concern that I am finding this particular article hard work. And so I fall into the trap of taking the worry seriously, which inhibits me from taking the appropriate action. Focusing on what I can do about the concern makes the worry seem less realistic.


Photo by Erriko Boccia on Unsplash


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