“Worry” is such a common term that we may believe it to be part of our natural state and possibly helpful. The truth is that worry runs us down, keeps us in the problem, and can eventually lead to such a frazzled mental state that we sabotage our ability to think clearly and effectively.
However, it’s not a healthy alternative to deny that something feels or very clearly is “off”. Acknowledging that we have a concern is often our best option. So, what’s the difference between worry and concern?
First of all, worry tends to ignite a flight-flight-or-freeze response which persists over time. It’s perpetuated mainly by what’s going on in our minds, fueled by our imagination. Our minds and bodies can’t function this way for an extended period of time without significant breakdown.This stress reaction can show up as difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, or dissociation (feeling disconnected from thoughts, feelings, memories). Physically we can feel shaky, have heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, trouble sleeping, and tremble.
In contrast, concern is usually a lower-grade awareness that something is occurring that has attracted our attention and about which we care. It’s based on an actual perception and tangible evidence. Our bodies don’t generally go into an alarm response when we’re concerned. We are more able to observe the situation in a level-headed manner, without jumping to conclusions or feeling threatened.
Secondly, worry tends to keep us fixated on the perceived problem. It keeps us running in circles, as if we were on a hamster wheel. We stagnate and are of limited usefulness. In fact, worry often paralyzes us. We stay in questions such as “What if?”
On the other hand, concern is focused on possible options and solutions. Concern propels us forward and helps us make meaningful progress. With concern, we zero in on possible ways (statements) of how to adapt to the situation.
Thirdly, worry often dwells on that which is out of our control, such as the future or other people’s behavior. This approach only compounds our anxiety.
Concern points toward that which is within our control, which is our response to the situation. This angle gives us the chance to build mastery and bolster our confidence, which contributes to emotional balance and calm even in the midst of difficulties.
If it’s still unclear to you whether you’re in a mindset of worry or concern, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is this worry/concern based on facts?
Is this worry/concern in proportion to the situation or is it exaggerated? (If the latter, you’re probably in the “worry” zone.)
Is there something I can do about the situation?
If no, am I willing to turn my thoughts and efforts to something more constructive?
If yes, am I willing to do something about the situation?