Rethinking the Usefulness of Worry

If you have GAD, you probably realize that you are worrying too much, and that this is not a good thing. However, what most people with GAD don’t realize is that they also often believe that worry is actually useful or helpful. As long as you think that worrying is helpful or useful in some way, you are going to want to keep worrying. In order to help you manage your worry, it is important to recognize and rethink any beliefs you might have about the usefulness of your worry. After all, your worries might not be as helpful as you think.

What are the positive beliefs that people with GAD have about worry? 

  1. Worrying shows that I am a caring person.
    If you believe this, you might think, “because I worry about my family, it proves that I love and care about them”, or “people know me as the worrier; I’m the one who worries and cares for people”.
  2. Worrying helps me to be prepared and to problem solve.
    Examples of this belief include: “I do well at my job because I worry about things getting done right!”, and “when I worry about my problems, I am more likely to solve them well”.
  3. Worrying motivates me.
    If you believe this, then you might say to yourself, “worrying about my job motivates me to do well”, or “if I didn’t worry about my health, I would never go to the gym or eat right!”
  4. Worrying protects me from negative emotions.
    If you believe this, then you probably think that worrying about bad things is like “money in the bank”; that is, if you worry about bad things now, you won’t be so upset if the bad thing actually happens. An example of this type of belief is, “If something bad happened to my family and I didn’t worry about it, it would come as a surprise, and I wouldn’t be able to handle it”.
  5. Worrying prevents bad things from happening.
    If you have this belief, you might think, “I always do well at my job because I worry about it; if I stopped worrying for a day, I would do very badly at my job”, or “if I worry about my family being in a car accident, then they it won't happen”.

How can you rethink your worries? 

Trying to change your beliefs about the usefulness of worry is not as simple as saying “worry is bad”. In order for you to change your beliefs, you need to look at your beliefs and think about whether your worries are doing what you think they are doing. 

Here are some questions that you can ask yourself about the worries that you think are helpful:

Worry Beliefs

Questions to Help you Rethink Your Beliefs

Worry shows I am a caring person

  • Do I know caring people who don’t worry as much as I do?
  • What else besides worry shows that I care?

Worry helps me to be prepared 

  • Am I confusing worrying (in my head) with actually doing something (i.e. actually solving problems rather than worrying about them)?
  • Do I know people who are organized and prepared who don’t worry as much as I do?

Worry motivates me 

  • Am I really more motivated when I worry?
  • Has worrying ever actually prevented me from doing the things I want to do? (for example, worrying so much about being healthy that you actually avoid the gym?)

Worry protects me from negative emotions 

  • If something bad did happen, would I really not be as upset?
  • Has anything bad ever happened in my life? Did I really feel more prepared to deal with it because I worried about it? 

Worry prevents negative outcomes 

  • Has anything bad happened in my life even though I worried about it?
  • Is there a way that I can test out my theory, by worrying one day and seeing what happens, and then not worrying another day?

Another way to rethink the usefulness of your worries is to ask yourself how much you have lost because of worrying. For example:

  • Has worry affected my friendships or relationships with others? Are people annoyed with me for worrying?
  • How much time, effort, and energy have I spent worrying? Is it worth it?
  • How has worry affected me physically? Am I tense all the time, often tired, or do I have trouble sleeping because of my worries?

If you find that your worries are not so helpful, that they are not doing what you think they are, and that they have cost you a lot in your life, then you can choose to learn new skills to manage your worry. Please go to the My Anxiety Plan link for GAD to learn about these skills.

If you still believe that your worries can be helpful from time to time, ask yourself the following question: is it possible to gain the benefits I get from worrying in a way other than through worry? For example, can I be a caring person and not worry? Can I be organized, prepared and motivated without worrying all the time? If you think that it is possible to get the benefits without the worry, then you can choose to learn new skills to manage your worry.

Note! Its okay if it takes you a little time until you are ready to give up your old beliefs about the usefulness of worry. If you are like most people with GAD, you may have been worrying for a long time and as a result, it will also take time to make some new changes. Come back to this page in a few days or weeks, and re-assess whether your worries might not be so helpful after all!