Photo Credit: Nik Shuliahin,

Written by Jeff Newman
August 7, 2020

Worrying about our lives is highly overrated. 

I was reading a story by Mark Twain, and he wrote,

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Did you know that a good majority of people believe worrying is helpful? There’s a belief that pondering a problem long enough gives you a better answer, helps you arrive at a better outcome, provides greater insight, or offers greater confidence in your chosen course of action. I can relate to that when I was considering asking Sue, my former wife, to marry me.

Then there are those who believe worrying helps them avoid problems and stay organized. I view worrying as an effective motivator and feel that it helps me sort out issues and so I started to ask around and a friend curiously asked me, “do you believe that worrying helps you cope and make you wiser and more reflective?” From this perspective, worrying would be a positive step forward. In fact, it’s a very positive feeling.

As I’ve seen, however, excessive worrying can be truly disruptive. I could relate my worrying to my mental health challenges. I live bipolar and our world’s plagued by an epidemic, by a disease that shows no mercy. The demons known as anxiety, addiction, and depression are very real, and they’ve claimed far too many of those we love.

Those still with us, including me, are fighting a battle we wage every day of our lives, keeping those demons at bay. It’s up to the world to show us sufferers that we aren’t alone, that there’s no shame, that we understand, and that the population will fight with us and for us.

Furthermore, the belief that constant worrying is useful is largely unsupported. It simply isn’t true. Two types of worrying exist: productive and unproductive worrying.

Productive Worry

If the light on your car’s dashboard indicates an empty tank, then the concern about running out of gas makes sense. But if you think for a moment of where the next closest gas station is, you’ll go there, and fill the tank. Your concern vanishes.

Along the same lines, if you forget to pick up your dog from the groomers and they just so happen to close in five minutes, you’re more apt to be a bit more concerned for your disregard of your family member! But, if you make a call to the groomer, say you’re on the way and pick up the dog, tipping more than your usual amount, the worry goes away.

In both of these cases, the worry, anxiety, or stress leads to solving the problem by taking effective action. You’ve replaced worry with a plan.

Unproductive Worry

Unproductive worry is somewhat of a conundrum. The worry doesn’t lead to an action plan. And, by not taking action, there are consequences. There’s an almost constant twitter of negative and disruptive thoughts.

When frequent and compelling, these thoughts can lead to temporary mental paralysis:

“ . . . I’m going to make mistakes, worry, and be fearful. It’s inevitable. As I move toward creating a better future, I’m likely to stumble at some point. I might do the wrong thing. I might say the wrong thing. I might take selfless action to achieve some worthy goal, only to fall flat on my face! My worry and rumination may get the best of me . . . ”

Worry, anxiety, and stress are all normal emotions. Except, of course, if one’s diagnosed differently. What matters most, however, is how you respond to worry, failure, and alike.

I can cringe away from my worries and failures, pretending that they never happened. Or, I can embrace them, learn from them, and leverage them to get better results in the future. The choice is up to me and my boundless potential for success bringing forth constant and never-ending improvement.

Have you ever had days when you just weren’t productive, when you couldn’t go get anything meaningful done? You felt unworthy, lonely, and maybe unloved. Then, you just pushed piles around on your desk, had trouble focusing, and felt short-tempered. Chances are, you were unproductive worrying.

Our worrying can touch on one of these areas: work, career, school performances, health, or relationships–all of which are important concerns. 

It’s natural to worry if one of these areas of our lives is threatened. What can we do? Well, we can identify the problem and engage in some solution-focused thinking.

Remember, the difference between productive and unproductive worrying is simply whether you can identify a solution. But, if there’s nothing you can do about solving the problem, disengage from it and let the worrisome thoughts float away.

What are some of the key points to practice being aware of?

  1. There are two kinds of worry. 
  2. Unproductive worry can be very unpleasant and is accompanied by high levels of anxiety and loss of focus on even simple tasks. 
  3. The difference between productive and unproductive worry is simple. Productive worry results in an action plan, whereas unproductive worry just causes you to mull a problem over without creating a solution.

I want you to identify whether or not the problem truly has a solution you can implement. If you don’t have any influence or control over the outcome, you have to relinquish control and let the thought float away. 


Jeff Newman’s dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families in areas of Personal Development, Organizational Coaching/Training and those affected by Mental Health Illness. His practice, R.O.M.E Training, was founded in 2016 with the purpose of helping all people to unburden themselves and let go of their troubled minds, to stop the myth that people with a mental health illness cannot live loving, joyous, fruitful, abundant and fulfilled lives.

Photo Credit: Nik Shuliahin,