Exploring the Two Faces of Worry

Written by on March 13, 2017 in Emotional Mastery, Self-Awareness, Self-Care

The Two Faces of Worry


Banish Worrying, Scientific Backed Ways to End Worrying, Stop Worrying and Start Living, How to Stop Worrying about Money (your job, finding your next client, things you can’t change, fill in the blank), and my personal favorite, How to Stop Worrying about Worrying.

Sound familiar?

These are actual titles of articles about worry, and if the volume of advice available on the subject is any indication it’s hard to imagine that there could be anything left to write about, but there one issue that is rarely discussed.

Is worry all bad, or can it ever serve a purpose?

To answer this question we’re going to explore the two faces of worry.

Understanding the Nature of Worry

We all experience worry from time to time; it is a skill for which we need no training. In fact, some scientists believe it may be hardwired into our DNA.

On the positive side, worry can be beneficial if we use it constructively to focus our attention and energy on taking action to solve a problem, address an issue or strive to achieve goals.

For example, you may be concerned about getting an important report turned in on time. Rather than waste energy worrying, you decide to put in a few extra hours of work so you don’t have to rush and can be assured of making the deadline.

I wished there was some kind of switch in my brain that I could turn it off in the same way that I could turn off the television. Just click it off and immediately empty my mind of all these images and worrying thoughts. And simply leave a blank screen. Or if I could just remove my head and put it on the bedside table and forget about it until morning. And then attach it again when I needed it. ~Marian Keyes

On the negative end of the scale is chronic worry, which is the focus of most advice articles.

This is a triggered response to a problem (real or imagined) that is negative in nature and involves over analyzing the situation and is usually accompanied by an emotional reaction and mental pictures of the potential worst case scenario that plays out repeatedly.

Using the example of feeling the pressure to get an important report in on time, when you become stuck in chronic worry, instead of taking action, you’d likely end up treating yourself to full-color mental reruns of all the things that could go wrong, from being criticized by your boss to losing your job and ending up homeless.

Chronic worry is an exhausting process that can escalate to anxiety and fear, even as it paralyzes you and prevents you from taking action. It can adversely affect your health and relationships, which is why everyone is telling you to just stop it.

Of course, as we all know, stopping a habit that has been a part of your life for years, maybe decades, is far easier said than done.

Why is it So Hard to Stop Worrying?

Worrying is a habit that is grounded in your beliefs. No one enjoys the way worrying feels, but there is a natural tendency to believe it serves a purpose because it gives you something (you perceive as) constructive to do.

The flaw in this belief is that we become so mired in thinking and imagining that we take no action to solve the problem (if there actually is one) which only causes the worry and anxiety to deepen.

But the good news is that since chronic worry is a habit, it can be broken.

The most constructive way to do this is to think in terms of managing your worry by sorting out what part is worth paying attention to and converted into action, and what part is useless and should be ushered out the backdoor, so to speak.

And as I often do, I highly recommend using a journal to work through this process.

Any level of worry that fails to spur you to take action is unhealthy and a waste of your time and energy. On the other hand, being concerned about a problem in a way that motivates you to get moving and resolve the issue can be beneficial.

So, you can worry and lose sleep over how you’re going to pay your bills this month (lose weight, get that promotion, etc.), or you can turn your concerns into action and focus on solutions and growth.

There is a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, and a concerned person solves a problem. ~Harold Stephen

How about you? Are you a worrier? Are you able to turn worry into constructive action?

Related reading …
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click here.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Joyce Hansen

    We are so mentally conditioned that there will always be something we can worry about. Yet, we don’t give ourselves any credit that if what we worry about should happen that we will be able to handle it. Then again, what we worry about may never happen and look at all that time we lost.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Your Priority Dilemma – Urgent or Important?My Profile

  2. Elise Cohen Ho

    This is a great post that I will be thrilled to tweet and otherwise share. Worry does not help us. Action does 🙂

  3. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    The interesting thing about worry is that it can easily be converted into the “concern” phase that you talk about.

    It only requires a tweak in your approach, from being focused on the problem to being focused on the solution.

    And, as you say, if you can’t determine an action that will lead to a solution, then you just have to let go of the problem altogether, since there is no apparent solution.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…Amazingly Simple Solutions To Your Biggest Blogging ChallengeMy Profile

  4. Hi Marquita I liked your article what I liked best was – ” you can worry and lose sleep over how you’re going to pay your bills this month (lose weight, get that promotion, etc.), or you can turn your concerns into action and focus on solutions and growth.”
    I used to be a worrier but what I found was to get busy and try to change what worried me.

  5. Ruth Bowers

    I love this quote — “There is a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, and a concerned person solves a problem.” ~Harold Stephen

    I’m going to start doing less worrying, and more problem solving. Thanks for another inspiring post!
    Ruth Bowers recently posted…[Friday Five] Five Areas Where You Can Put More Personality Into Your BusinessMy Profile

  6. Edward Thorpe

    Hi Marquita,

    My Mamma used to say that worry was the devil’s playground. She might’a been right because worry without action is insane behavior.

    In ‘The Power Of Now’ (kinda simple-minded, while also thought provoking?) by Eckhart Tolle, he writes about how worry is impossible when we’re living in the ‘now’ – I can see that.

    Anyway, interesting post. Made me think. Edward
    Edward Thorpe recently posted…How To Prevent Charlie Horses And Other Muscle CrampsMy Profile

  7. Sue Bride

    I’d say I was a chronic worrier when younger but not now. As a child I ruined Sundays by worrying about school the next day! I wasn’t bullied just shy and anxious. In my case I think high anxiety caused the worry.
    Sue Bride recently posted…Instamate Review – Use Instagram On The Web from Your ComputerMy Profile

  8. K. Lee Banks

    Excellent post and information we all should take into serious consideration. Too much worrying can be harmful to our health – but as pointed out, healthy concern that motivates us to action is a positive thing.
    K. Lee Banks recently posted…Missing my Dad – His 84th Birthday is Today – It’s His 15th Birthday in HeavenMy Profile

  9. Tuhin

    Another good topic, Marquita!
    Few of my relatives (the elder generation) worry too much about the things that are not worth worrying. I have observed that even some of the most care free persons start worrying about various things with age. Is there any relationship between old age and worrying?
    Tuhin recently posted…Adjustments in Life: How to Adjust with People Around UsMy Profile

    • I read a LOT of research reports and studies on issues relating to emotional resilience and statistically “older” people typically worry less because they’ve been through more and are better able to keep things in perspective and let go of many of the issues younger people find to be such a big deal. Of course, there are bound to be situational variances, but the most significant factor is having a sense of control over one’s own life. Which, coincidentally, is the topic of my next post. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Tuhin!

  10. Sushmita

    What an amazing post dear, we all have our worries however only worrying will not resolve the issue.
    My current worry is to increase me Blogs audience and gain more subscribers!
    But that doesn’t mean I am just sitting worrying about it, rather I am currently working on new developments to work it out!
    Always hoping for the best! Fingers crossed!
    Sushmita recently posted…You see, best 5 Self-Help Accounting Tools for Start Ups!My Profile

    • Building a list is so important so I wish you well with your efforts. There are endless tips out there on how to quickly build a list, but personally, I would rather take a little longer and build a community of people who actually want to be here and are willing to make the effort. It’s a process. 🙂

  11. Vatsala Shukla

    I used to worry a lot when I was studying to become a Chartered Accountant Marquita, and in a way it worked as a motivator to succeed because I was a foreign student in UK and the nature of the studies meant needing a work permit. The permit was renewed with each exam that I passed. My firm only sponsored the first attempt at each level and I didn’t have the GBP 1,000/- to pay for a resit.
    So for me, passing the exams was a priority. I alleviated the worry problem by learning transcendental meditation. I passed and qualified so there was a happy ending.

    Nowadays, if I feel the worry bug crawling around me, I use the Dale Carnegie question, ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ and regain perspective.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…Make Happiness a Lifetime HabitMy Profile

    • I can only imagine the pressure you must have been under, but obviously, you were up to the challenge. I’ve been a fan of Dale Carnegie for years and was lucky enough to be able to attend several workshops when I first went into hotel management. That’s a great approach Vatsala!

  12. Marquita — I’ve come to the point where I honestly can say that I don’t worry about things I have no control over. I was booked on a trip to NY in January and, of course, the weather is always an issue. I had to be there that week, no possibility of changing my plans. But I didn’t worry about it. If it snowed, it snowed. Nothing I could do about that.

    I took a lot of the worry out of my life when I moved to Florida. I secured my financial future and have turned a page in my life and all is good. Do I have problems? Sure, like everyone else. It’s how we handle them that counts. And I’ve gotten better about that over the years. I can say I’m pretty much at peace with where I am now.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…A “Bromance” is Born on a 1,600-Mile Drive to DCMy Profile

  13. Mark

    Well haven’t you done it yet again M!LOL!

    As I was reading your opening paragraph and also thinking to myself, she’s right, hasn’t this particular evergreen subject been explored, more than it’s fair share of times.

    And then, you share your rarely explored angle, and I just had to smile M!

    As I thought to myself, leave it to Marquita to uncover and share, a new slant or two!LOL!

    And I love your quote from Harold Stephen BTW. And I also love your incredibly brilliant insight, we need no special training of any kind, in order to be efficient at worrying!

    That’s freaking priceless M! Thanks for sharing another outstanding and truly thought provoking post!

    It’s too bad, this particular subject remains so evergreen.
    Mark recently posted…How Savvy Entrepreneurs Literally Create Money Making Opportunities!Part TwoMy Profile

    • Thank you for your kind words, Mark! I must admit it’s become something of a mission for me to find ways to encourage readers to challenge their long-held beliefs and attitudes. We all benefit from dusting off the shelves from time to time. 🙂

  14. Jeri

    I tend to be a chronic worrier, but it comes and goes. My grandma was a huge worrier, but she was also co-dependent with my alcoholic grandpa. It’s like she didn’t know what to do without him to look after. It’s like our bodies need to do something with that energy, so it becomes second nature to funnel it into worry. I continually try to get better about putting my energy into more positive avenues than worry. For me, it seemed just like when life was looking up and I was getting over some of my worrier tendencies, my health took a turn for the worse. Now I have to worry about, but I’m learning, little by little to channel that feeling more constructively.
    Jeri recently posted…#WriteTip: The Paradox of Perfectionism in Writing by Glynis JollyMy Profile

    • Knowing a bit about your story I can certainly appreciate your challenges and the effort you’ve made to continue building strength and resilience over the past couple of years. I can also relate to your situation with your grandmother since my mother was an alcoholic and that affected our home in profound ways. Ah life, quite a roller coaster ride isn’t it? Thanks so much for sharing, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments Jeri. 🙂

  15. Emily

    I find that I worry a lot and overthink everything which makes me feel very anxious and paranoid. I try to turn this worry into productivity but sometimes it is easier said than done. I haven’t tried writing in a journal to help work my way through this process but I may give it a go next time.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Emily recently posted…Kaleidoscope of ColoursMy Profile

    • Well Emily, if we were sitting down together over a cup of coffee I’d ask you how you’ve tried to address your worry habit. I may be completely off base, but your comment about giving journaling a try “next time” leads me to believe that what’s missing in your effort is consistency. Think in terms of building a muscle – if you only exercise it when you need it, it will never develop. The same theory goes for breaking any habit, and that’s what worrying is – a habit. If you really want to break the pattern, you need a proactive plan and to be self-aware. I can guarantee you that once your worry gets to the point of anxiety it’s already been at work for awhile so if you catch it, in the beginning, it will never get that far. Make sense? Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation!

  16. Hi Marty. I have a friend who is a chronic worrier. And as I don’t worry at all, we do tend to clash on occasion. I guess the key might be to be in the middle ground. But I learned long ago that worrying doesn’t solve anything. So I prefer to hold a steady path and have the faith that things will work out. And they nearly always do!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…wowed in Weggis, SwitzerlandMy Profile

  17. Donna Janke

    I have a tendency to worry. My mother was a chronic worrier – she once told me she was worried because there was nothing to worry about and she was convinced she was overlooking something. I worked as a project manager in information technology for many years. Worrying in that field was known as risk management. We didn’t just worry though, we took action – developing mitigation and contingency plans. I find I can reduce the worry in my personal life with taking action or writing things down, but I am still learning how to more completely let go of worry.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Pioneering Women at the Aviation MuseumMy Profile

    • Good luck with that Donna! Despite the many claims to the contrary, I’m not convinced we can really let go of worry altogether, which is why I focus first on learning to manage the emotions. At least that builds a solid foundation to work on continuing to reduce the frequency and severity of bouts of worry. Thanks so much for stopping by and contributing to the conversation!

  18. PhoeniciaO

    Marquita – such a timely post. I am embarrassed and ashamed to admit I have worried since a young girl in primary school. I remember having to stay with my grandmother when my young mother had the occasional night out with friends. She was strict and I recall the dread I felt at the pit of my stomach. The whole week leading up to it, I could think of nothing else. It completely consumed me. I also recall not being invited to a birthday party and my friend had – I allowed it to go around and around in my head. These are just two examples going back to my childhood.

    Worrying changes nothing – as you stated we should put more focus into rectifying the issue if it is possible. In some circumstances there is absolutely nothing we can do and this is where aI struggle. The waiting game………..,,

    I find I am generally more at peace now than ever before. My faith in God and myself has grown.
    PhoeniciaO recently posted…No limits!My Profile

    • You have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about Phoenicia! We all worry from time to time, and the truth is it rarely makes sense but that is why learning about why we do the things we do is so important. You brought up a good point when you mentioned there are some circumstances when there is nothing that we can do. I believe this is a more complex subject that most realize because to some degree what is or is not possible is subjective.

      This is a critical issue for those who have overcome extreme hardship in their lives because sometimes you have to ignore conventional wisdom about what is or isn’t realistic and push forward anyway. Had I believed the first doctor who told me there was no cure for the viral infection I was diagnosed with several years ago I would never have gone in pursuit of answers and I wouldn’t be able to see today. This is a subject I plan to explore further in a follow-up post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  19. Rosary says:

    Great post! I like the idea that we should turn our worry into productivity, however it does sound easier said than done. I guess it all comes down to taking it one step at a time, like you said breaking a long term habit is never easy. Thanks for sharing!
    Rosary recently posted…[comic] – this went viral?!My Profile

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