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The difference between helpful and unhelpful worry

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Do you ever find yourself in bed, trying to go to sleep but your brain is thinking and keeping you up? Do you ever find yourself trying to get work done but realize that you have spent the past 10 mins staring blankly at our computer being lost in thought? This could be a sign that you are stressed or worried. 


Signs that you might be worrying or stressed:

  • When it’s hard to focus or concentrate on things that don’t keep your whole attention.
  • Your brain goes back to the same thought/event over and over.
  • You are thinking in circles – If you have thought about the same thing a few times, without coming up with new information or new solutions.
  • What you are thinking about is out of your control – Worry makes us believe that we can make it in our control when in reality we can’t.


Stress and worry can be helpful and at times unhelpful, and the skill is in knowing the difference. Here is how to start distinguishing between both.


When things are out of our control and all we can do is wait till said event, the worry is not helpful. Worry tricks us into thinking that if we worry enough, we are doing something productive and can possibly change the outcome of what we are worried about. When in reality, worrying does not help change the outcome since it’s out of our control and we end up worrying twice; worrying before the event happens and during the event. 


For example, continuously thinking/worrying about the meeting your boss booked with you on Monday, when it’s still Friday morning. Your worry will tell you it’s helpful to be thinking of the hundred things your boss might be bringing up in the meeting, because it’s helpful to be prepared for everything. However, it’s impossible to be prepared for every situation, and most of those situations you have prepared for won’t be of any use. Not being able to know what your boss wants to address at the meeting is out of your control and there is nothing you can do about it until Monday’s meeting. Therefore, thinking about what it could be about is not helpful and is making you worry all weekend and Monday during the meeting. That worry can rob you from having a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend. Not to mention, worrying has a negative effect on your body as well.


Worry and stress can be helpful when there are things in our control and when it pushes us into action to do what we can to change the outcome. 


An example of a helpful kind of worry, is if you have a presentation to do in a few days, spending time thinking about what potential problems you might encounter during that presentation or potential questions you might be asked after the presentation or even practicing your presentation a few more times, are helpful action things to be thinking about and preparing for. In this case the worry is helpful since there is a lot still in your control until your presentation. 


Once you are able to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful worry, then read my previous post on “5 steps to stop worrying”.



Julie Couture, MACP, has extensive experience in the area of anxiety and family relationships, plus many more. For more information on Julie and her work, click here to link to her full bio page