How to Be a Worrier, Not a Downer

We’ve established that being a worrier has its benefits. But not everyone is going to appreciate your increased productivity, planning abilities, and foresight. Some people are going to call you a Debbie Downer.  And while it doesn’t matter what people think, love thyself, yada yada, the truth is that it is easier to get through life if everyone doesn’t think you’re a Negative Nancy.

I’m still beta-testing some of these tips in my own life, but I have compiled a list of ways to be a productive, useful worrier, not a downer.

Don’t vocalize all of your worries

Know when to keep your worries to yourself. If it isn’t obviously beneficial for others to share in your concerns, then don’t share them.

Time to share: Your girlfriend is scooping (store-bought) cookie dough onto a baking sheet and you notice that the expiration date on the container was ten days ago.

Time to keep quiet: Your girlfriend is scooping that same cookie dough onto a baking sheet, but it’s not expired, and your main concern is that it contains high fructose corn syrup. You recently read an article about how bad that stuff is for you. You can share this information later, without mentioning the cookies and without making her feel guilty.

By not sharing all of your worries, you can avoid becoming The Worrier Who Cried Wolf. If you worry aloud all the time, it is highly likely that not all of your concerns will come true. (Thank goodness!) However, this tends to make the people around you start to tune you out. Even when you voice a valid concern, they might brush it off as just another paranoid flight of fantasy.

Structure your worries as concrete suggestions

Rather than making vague predictions about being late for the airport and missing your flight and being stranded in Kansas City and having your dog starve to death at home because the pet-sitter thought you’d be back today, make suggestions of things that you and your family can do to make the flight on time.

For example, you could fill the car with gas the night before. You can wait until you’re past security to get a meal. You can check traffic and wait times at the airport before you leave.

Don’t pester non-defensive-pessimists with what will seem to them like a paranoid list of dark fantasies–give real-world solutions instead.

Keep a worry journal

I’ve never been much good at journaling/diarying. I have a lot of notebooks with fewer than 10 pages filled, with entries dated everywhere from 2001 to the beginning of 2015. Recently I’ve abandoned traditional journaling in favor of my “worry journal.”

Whenever I am feeling particularly stressed about something, I write it down. Sometimes seeing it on paper makes the solution clearer. Sometimes it makes me realize that I’m worried about nothing real. Sometimes it doesn’t really help at all in the moment. Still, it is nice to look back later and see that I got through whatever was worrying me at the time, which helps me realize that I can probably do it again.

Prioritize your worries

As a defensive pessimist, I’m not going to tell you to stop worrying altogether. I don’t think that’s a good idea at all! I do, however, think that you should try not to worry about things that you have no control over. Defensive pessimism is only useful in situations where you have agency. It’s one thing to worry about whether or not your boss will like your presentation; you can always improve your slides, practice more, and discuss it with other people in the office. It’s another thing to worry about whether or not your boss will get sick and not be there on the day you’re supposed to present and then you’ll have to present it after the long weekend when you’ll have forgotten everything. Don’t worry about that, since you can’t control your boss’s personal health. (Although you could still keep rehearsing the presentation over the weekend, in order to prevent that exact outcome.)


So what do you guys do to be a worrier, not a downer?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *