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Compare Productive and Unproductive Worry

Worries can be productive, helping you manage your life and reduce your stress. On the other hand, worrying can result in unnecessary fear, anxiety, and upset. Understanding the differences between these two forms of worrying — productive and unproductive — is an important step on your path to managing and ultimately minimizing your worrying. Here are some criteria to help you figure out which category your worrying falls into.

Unproductive worry

Unproductive worry displays the following characteristics:

  • It imagines all sorts of unlikely outcomes.

  • It assumes that one bad outcome will cascade into a series of even worse outcomes.

  • It worries about events far into the future that don’t need a solution right now.

  • It assumes that your worrisome thinking is valid and reflects the realistic truth.

  • It assumes that your negative feelings are accurate measures of the importance of the worry.

  • It rehashes negative experiences in the past.

  • It demands that you have control over just about everything in your life.

  • It refuses to accept that negative experiences are part of life.

  • It makes the approval of others an overly important need.

  • It accepts only perfect, or near perfect, solutions to problems.

Productive worry

Here’s what makes this kind of worrying adaptive and functional:

  • It helps you solve a problem or resolve a situation.

  • It doesn’t demand certainty.

  • It’s not overwhelmed by emotion.

  • It turns a worry into a problem to be solved.

  • It explores appropriate ways of finding a solution to a problem.

  • It doesn’t get stuck in evaluating unrealistic outcomes.

  • It defers those worries that can’t be solved until a future point in time.

  • It’s not long lasting and can be ended in a relatively short period of time.

  • It accepts that loss and tragedy are a natural and expected part of life.

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