How to turn worry to your advantage

Wouldn’t it be great if you could turn a bad habit such as worrying into a catalyst that keeps you energized and productive? Actually, it’s possible with a little help from the way we think.

Worry normally paralyzes you into a state of guilt, regret or getting stuck in the past or things that may happen in the future. You may worry about everything — from your current financial state to the weather or anything that affects your lifestyle.

Worry normally comes in two types — productive and unproductive. The unproductive worry consists of problems you have no control over. For example, you may be worried about a nuclear war. There’s nothing you can do about it, so it’s a waste of time and very unproductive to worry about it.

Productive worry involves a situation you can control, such as meeting an important deadline. You may be anxious about getting the work done on time, but sitting on the couch worrying about it doesn’t help. You can turn that worry into productive time by planning what you can do to meet the deadline and then taking action.

The truth about worry

For the largest part, worry is a virtually useless emotion. It is simply the future tense of guilt, another useless emotion. Worry does have a small purpose i.e. it highlights potential problems that you may be able to prevent before they arise but at this point is it really worry? Personally, I would class it as concern rather than worry. It becomes worry when you let it fester and you keep thinking about what could go wrong.

If you take action immediately on your concern; your concern will have provided some benefit. However, the major problem arises when you remain concerned for a long period i.e. you become worried; either about potential problems that you have not acted on or, potential problems which you cannot do anything to prevent. Excessive worry leads to a range of problems including:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

You may need to empty your mind of all negative thoughts before you can become productive. One way to clear your mind is to write down your worries and analyze them. Your anxiety will likely recede when you can focus only on the task at hand, having removed the clutter from your mind.

As you begin to control your worry patterns and work through them, you’ll build resilience so that you can face future circumstances with confidence. You’ll begin to see that when you avoid situations you’re worried about (such as that impending deadline), the situation only becomes worse.

Turn worry to your advantage

The most important element of dealing with worry is to deal with it at the first opportunity, preferably while it can still be classed as concern. The next step is to get the concern/worry out of your head and onto paper where you can deal with it. Regardless of what you are worried about, the following process will help you to reduce/eliminate the worry and perform better:

1. List everything

Write down everything that is causing you worry or concern. No matter how obscure it may seem, write it down.

2. Divide the list in two

Once you have listed everything that is causing you worry or concern, divide that list into two lists — things which you can so something about and things which you can do nothing about.

Evaluate each item honestly before placing it on the most appropriate list.

3. Throw away the list you can do nothing about

There is no point worrying about things which you can do nothing about. They are a waste of valuable energy and mental resources. Instead, roll that list up into a ball and chuck it away. Alternatively, you can burn it for added symbolism.

Depending on your beliefs, as you get rid of that list, you can say that you place these worries in the hands of God or the Universe etc. You are then acknowledging that whatever happens, you know that you will be OK.

4. Identify positive actions

Now you are left with a list of concerns or worries which you can do something about. Work your way through the list and identify some positive or corrective action that you can take for each item.

5. Take action

Start with the items which cause you the greatest worry or concern and implement the positive actions which you have identified. By starting with your biggest worries; even if you don’t get to implement every action, you will greatly reduce the potential for things to go wrong.

Once you have worked through this five step process, your productivity will improve because you will no longer be wasting time worrying about things which you can do nothing about. You will also have greatly eased your remaining worries by taking positive and corrective action to deal with them. This frees up your mental resources to work on important tasks while reducing your stress levels. Not bad for an exercise which can be completed relatively quickly.

Worry is one of the most common signs of stress.

Transforming worrying into productivity takes practice, but when you master the technique, you’ll be amazed at how you can mentally pull yourself out of a stressful situation and get back to solving the worrisome situation in a rational and productive way. Too many people think that worry can be avoided and ignored but if you try to take that approach, your worries will grow as your deadline looms closer. There will always be worries which you can do nothing about. You simply have to accept and acknowledge this and leave these worries in the hands of fate. For everything else, you can identify ways to deal with it. The key to dealing with worry is learning to identify when it starts to kick in. You can then use the exercise outlined above to identify the most appropriate action to take.

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