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Worry Less, Sleep More Series: Solvable vs Unsolvable Worries

When it comes to getting a handle on worry, it is crucial to distinguish between solvable and unsolvable worries. But how do you do that?

Research has shown that while you are engaged in worry, you temporarily feel less anxious. That might sound strange, but worrying actually acts as a distraction from your emotions and makes you feel like you are making some progress and accomplishing something. But there are key differences between plain worrying and problem solving.

Problem solving revolves around assessing a situation, deciding on the next steps for dealing with it and then putting them into action. By comparison, worrying rarely leads to solutions. It doesn’t matter how long you spend thinking about worst-case scenarios, you’re no more prepared to deal with them if they do actually happen.


Solvable worries are those you can take steps to solve straight away. Worrying about these can be productive, for example if you’re worried about delivering a presentation in work, then you could take some public speaking classes.

Unsolvable worries are those for which there is no realistic and helpful action you can take, for example ‘What if my partner has a car accident?’. Worrying about them is therefore unproductive.


2) Focus on those solutions you have control over, and therefore have the power to change

3) Avoid focusing on anything out of your control

4) Evaluate your options and make an action plan

5) Once you have a plan and feel that you are taking steps to solve the problem, you’ll feel much less anxious


If you’re a chronic worrier, it is highly likely that a lot of your anxious thoughts sit in this category. For some, worrying is a way to try to predict what the future holds in order to avoid unpleasant surprises and try to control the outcome. The difficulty is, it doesn’t work.

Worrying about anything that could go wrong doesn’t make like more predictable. There are always an unlimited amount of possibilities in any situation, and focusing on worst-case outcomes will only stop you enjoying the positives in life. To help accept the uncertainty, think about the following:

  • Are you inclined to predict bad things will happen just because they are uncertain? Consider how likely it is that the bad thing will really happen.

  • Chances are, the likelihood is very low. Is it therefore possible to live with the relatively small chance that something bad may happen?

  • If that bad thing really did happen, can you think of ways you’d handle it?

  • Try asking your friends and family how they cope with feelings of uncertainty in specific situations. Could you try doing the same?

NB: This article is for information purposes, and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, or have symptoms which prevent you from sleeping well, you should contact your medical practitioner.


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