Why We Believe Worry Helps Us

How Challenging Beliefs About the Benefits of Worry Can Help Overcome Anxiety

Worrying woman
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Unrelenting worry is one of the primary features of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. New research underscores the idea that holding positive beliefs about your worry—believing it helps you to function as a better person and avoid negative things in life—contributes to maintaining your worry and anxiety. 

In fact, the results show that the more you buy into the positive beliefs about worry, the more severe your worry may be.

 Using the “Why Worry-II” questionnaire, the study outlined five main beliefs about worry that keep people attached to their worry and anxiety (Hebert et al., 2014):

1. Worry facilitates my problem solving

2. Worry enhances my motivation

3. Worry protects against my negative emotions

4. Worry prevents negative outcome from occurring

5. Worry makes me a conscientiousness person

Holding these positive beliefs makes it harder to let go of your worry. Your anxiety starts to serve as a security blanket, “As long as I worry enough about every possible outcome, everything will be ok.” It feels like a protective force surrounding you. You believe it helps you cope better with life’s problems. You might also believe that worrying shows that you are a caring person.

However, high levels of anxiety are anything but helpful. Anxiety becomes debilitating—the very worry that you think is helping you ends up causing you to be stuck, caught in a cycle of paralyzing worry.

But there is good news. Challenging your beliefs about the benefits of worry can help to reduce worry and anxiety (Dugas & Robichaud, 2007). In their book, Cognitive Behavioral Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorders, authors Dugas and Robichaud explain that intolerance of uncertainty is the single best predictor of worry.

Thus, when you can learn to tolerate some uncertainty in your life, your level of worry is reduced. Here are some strategies based on their treatment model:

1. Reevaluate your beliefs about worry. Make a list of the ways worry has become burdensome for you. How much time during the day do you spend worrying? Does it interfere with other things you’d rather be doing? What does it do to the quality of your day, and the quality of your interactions with other people? Has worry about how an event will turn out prevented you from attending events or engaging in life? Seeing the ways that worry has cost you (rather than help you) sets the stage for you to begin to let go of worry and start using new ways of coping.

2. Identify the type of worry you’re experiencing. When you find yourself worrying, stop to examine the source of your worry. Is it a current problem that is happening to you now, or is it a concern about what might, potentially happen? Learning to differentiate between the two types of worry can help you focus on current, real problems and start the process of problem-solving to deal with those concerns.

3. Take action. Develop a plan of action for dealing with real-time problems. The first step is to re-think your mindset. So often, when dealing with problems, you might doubt your ability to solve problems or worry you’ll become overwhelmed—which can lead to a tendency to put off your problem solving efforts.  Remind yourself that putting off problem-solving phase won’t help alleviate your worry and won’t help you move forward. Instead, create a go-to plan of action. Use the problem resolution format, as follows: (1) Define the problem and the problem-solving goal, (2) Brainstorm potential solutions, (3) Chose a solution, (4) Apply the solution, and (5) Evaluate the results.

Picking a solution can be a tough part of problem-solving. Instead of trying to find the perfect solution, remind yourself to aim for picking the best solution that fits your problem. It’s also helpful to recognize things won’t always go according to plan, and that’s ok. Even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, but this is an opportunity for you to practice being okay with the unpredictable nature of life.

4. Expose yourself to uncertain situations. We know that worry and anxiety are fueled by fear of the unknown. The way to get past this is to start to slowly allowing yourself to purposefully experience some uncertainty. For example, try a new class or restaurant without reading the reviews. Approach new situations with the mindset that there are variables you cannot control, and that’s okay. Notice how beginning to embrace some aspects of uncertainty allows you more freedom and flexibility.

5. Get support. Lastly, recognize that worry, in and of itself, doesn’t have the power to prevent or lessen bad feelings or bad events from happening. Instead of worrying about what might go wrong or how you might feel, develop a new strategy for handling tough emotions and difficult situations when they arise. Reach out to your support system—family and friends who you can really talk to. Look for a therapist or psychologist if you need help building a support system and developing a coping plan. Knowing that you can cope with tough emotions or difficult situations will help lessen your fear of these situations.



[1] Hebert, E.A., Dugas, M.J., Tulloch, T.G., and Holowka, D.W. 2014. “Positive beliefs about worry: A psychometric evaluation of the Why Worry-II.” Personality and Individual Differences. 56: 3-8. 


[2] Dugas, M. J., & Robichaud, M. 2007. "Cognitive-behavioral treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: from science to practice." New York: Routledge.

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