Wisdom//

How to Channel Your Worry More Productively at Work

Incessant worrying can get in the way of celebrating our wins, but when we reframe, it can also motivate us to get out of our own way.

Chutima Chaochaiya/ Shutterstock
Chutima Chaochaiya/ Shutterstock

As much as you try to stay organized and remain calm, performance anxieties can still arise when you least expect them, and those worries can hold you back from moving forward and celebrating your wins.

“High anxiety takes away your problem-solving confidence,” Graham Davey, Ph.D., an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Sussex, tells Thrive. “When you worry, you don’t believe you’re coming up with good solutions, and that feeling makes you feel personally inadequate.” According to Davey, worrying can cause you to let your inner critic take over — but if you reframe your stressors, they can actually help you at work. “Worrying can be a problem-solving process: If you can keep your worries productive, they can help you solve problems,” Davey explains.

The concept of “productive worrying” may sound counterintuitive, but with some simple cues to help you reframe your thoughts, Davey says it’s entirely possible to use your work anxieties to propel you forward, and help you succeed. Here are a few ways to channel your worries in a way that’s positive and constructive.

Set aside designated worry time

Oftentimes, you may try to ignore what’s causing you stress, so that you can power through your workload. But Davey says that process can backfire. Instead, set aside a specific time each day to indulge in your worrying, he urges. “This not only gives you license to worry freely — and hopefully solve problems — but after a bit of practice, it also minimizes the time you spend worrying unproductively the rest of the day.” When you carve out time to focus on these feelings instead of hoping they will go away, Davey notes that you can focus more clearly on your work, and see if your stress as a sign that you need to make a change in your work ethic — whether that’s your strategy, your communication with co-workers, or even the hours you’re working.

Keep a “worry diary”

It’s difficult to see a concern as something constructive when you’re overwhelmed in the moment, and that’s why Davey suggests keeping a “worry diary” to help you reflect and reframe. “Write down in the diary each worry you have,” he suggests. “Then, in a week or so, go back and have a look at which worries were useful and which weren’t.” By reflecting, you can see your concerns from a new angle, and shift your perspective to see what you could have done positively, instead of just letting the issue stress you out. “By writing it down, you can see which ‘what if’ scenarios actually happened, and which didn’t,” Davey adds. “That should help you ground your worrying, and implement solutions based on the given problem.”

Consider the three variables of worry

Productive worrying is all about seeing each stressor as an action item instead of a setback. But when you’re overwhelmed, it’s hard to see that there is an active step to take — and that’s where the “three variables of worry” come in. “Look at the relationship between three variables: probability, catastrophe, and action,” Kevin Gyoerkoe, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and anxiety expert, tells Thrive. “These variables help you see how likely is it that your worry will come true, or the probability, then if it does, how awful will it really be, or the catastrophe, and then if there’s anything you can do about it, or the action.” Gyoerkoe notes that considering these variables can help you see your worry as a signal to make a change. Once you see that the concern can be converted to action instead of catastrophe, you’ll be more equipped to channel your stress for good, rather than letting it hold you back.

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