6 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Worry

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You may think that you need your worry, but if you suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), your worry is unlikely to be serving you well. In fact, anxiety is typically at its highest when you worry. Sometimes it can feel like the worry controls you, rather than the other way around. If you’re looking to get back in charge, answering a few questions might help to get you there:

1. What, specifically, am I worried about?

It’s common, when anxious, to feel like you’re worried about everything. Stepping back to identify one specific worry, and tying it to a predicted outcome, can make it more manageable to tackle. For example, perhaps you find yourself frequently on edge about your performance at work. You might think, “I never get anything right.” What “anything” do you mean, specifically? If you notice you have this general thought when you think about next week’s work presentation, a more specific worry might be, “My talk next week is going to be terrible.”

2. What is the worst-case scenario? Am I predicting a catastrophe?

Typically, individuals with GAD and other anxiety disorders start with one thought and quickly cascade down a spiral of worry. This often involves imagining a catastrophic consequence, such as: “I’ll get fired if my presentation is terrible.” Perhaps your thought goes one step further: “I’ll get fired and will never find another job.” If you’re unsure what your underlying big worry is, consider a written exercise to get down to the root of it.

If your worry takes the form of a rhetorical question, you are not alone. Future-oriented anxious thoughts are often in the form of “What if….?” (In our example, perhaps: “What if I blow it?”). These are questions that can never be answered with total certainty. Try to turn your question into a specific statement (such as: “If I blow it, I’ll get fired.”).

3. How likely is it that the very worst will happen?

Consider the reasons why you are holding onto your belief – your evidence. Perhaps you received some constructive criticism from your boss after your last presentation. Maybe you were unemployed for a while before finding this job. On the other hand, can you come up with reasons to believe that the very worst won’t happen? For example, that previous criticism did not result in the loss of your job. And even though you were unemployed for a while, you did find another job. These are reasons to believe that the worst won’t happen.

4. What are other possible outcomes-- the most likely outcome? The best outcome?

Often, we worry about outcomes that are possible, but not probable. It might be more likely that this presentation will be better than the last (or at least, no worse) than that it will be terrible and lead to getting fired. Can you come up with evidence for more likely or positive outcomes? Perhaps you’re more at ease with the material, had more time to prepare, or have a better sense of what is expected of you.

If so, then the presentation might go off without a hitch. Maybe a best-case scenario even involves colleagues congratulating you for your efforts.

5. Am I letting my worry, rather than the facts, guide me?

If you read through the other possible outcomes listed above (or considered likely and best outcomes for your particular worry) and found yourself entirely unconvinced, then your anxiety is still in charge. You might be doing some emotional reasoning, telling yourself: “If I feel worried about this, then that means something bad is definitely going to happen.” Emotional reasoning is a type of distorted thought. These kinds of thoughts are unhelpful and most likely, if you heard a friend voice the exact prediction you are making, you’d tell them they were way off-base. This is much harder to do for ourselves. To start, try asking yourself what you might tell a friend in your position.

6. Have I been wrong in the past? When my prediction was wrong, what actually happened?

How many times have you worried about getting fired? How often has it happened? If you have lost a job, what actually happened and what was the process like to find new employment. If it’s hard to remember how often your predictions are accurate, try keeping a Worry Log; in it, you can track feared consequences and actual outcomes. You can learn a lot from doing this type of monitoring, including the topics about which you tend to worry (e.g., health, finances, career, body image) and the main themes (e.g., failing, not fitting in). What you learn about yourself and your anxieties might help clarify which strategies will be most helpful.

Challenging your worry is hard work, and it takes a lot of practice. Fortunately, it is only one of a variety of ways to reduce your worry. If you found this exercise helpful, consider learning more about cognitive behavioral therapy for GAD and other anxiety disorders. If questioning your worry feels especially challenging, then consider alternative coping strategies, such as relaxation tools or mindfulness techniques.


Leahy, RL. Cognitive Therapy Techniques: A Practitioner’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press, 2003.

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