Worry vs. Concern–Knowing the Difference Can Save You From Anxiety

Everyone worries, right? Worrying is so common, you might be tempted to think of it as an instinct. And if it’s instinctual, then it must be an adaptive part of our nature. Worrying about saber-toothed tigers while traipsing through the primeval jungles certainly would have provided a distinct survival advantage to our ancestors. Yet, as convincing as this speculation may seem, I assure you, worrying didn’t serve our ancestors back on the African savanna, nor does it serve you today sitting at your desk in a high-rise office building.

To understand why worrying, as a strategy, is counterproductive, you’ll need to understand the difference between being worried and being concerned. Worry is the incessant, ruminative speculation of what might go wrong–an anticipation of chaos. This can be because of a past mishap: What if I insulted her? She may bad-mouth me at work; or because of a mishap that’s waiting to happen: What if I don’t find an apartment? Then what will I do? It’s a form of self-torment, best described as what-if thinking.

Concern, on the other hand, is a calculated consideration and assessment of actual danger. Whereas worrying anticipates problems and things going awry (loss of control), concern is more fact-based and geared toward problem-solving. What do you think serves you when facing a life challenge: dealing with fact (being concerned), or dealing with fiction (worrying)?

Read through the examples below and ask yourself whether there is any advantage to worrying.

Worry: What if I cant fit into that dress?
Concern: I’m going to have to watch what I eat if I’m going to fit into that dress.

Worry: What if I’m late?
Concern: I’d better leave fifteen minutes earlier to avoid construction delays.

Worry: What if she says no?
Concern: Whether she says yes or no, either way I’ll survive.

Worry: This is a strange pain. What if it’s serious?
Concern: If I’m uncomfortable tomorrow, I’ll call the doctor. No sense assuming the worst.

As you can see from the examples above, if you compare worry with concern, there’s no contest–not if you want to be effective. Being concerned is an adaptive and constructive way of thinking that really prepares you for life’s challenges. Being worried, on the other hand, is a circular, destructive kind of thinking that leads to a life of stress, anxiety, or panic. There is worry and there is concern. Concern is circumstance-driven; and worry is insecurity-driven. Worry, insecurity-driven–from the inside out–is bad for you. Concern, circumstance driven–from the outside in–is good for you.

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