Understanding and Managing Excessive Worry
Like social anxiety, a certain amount of worry is normal and useful. If we worry briefly about a possible future event it can help us to prepare for it. However, in some people worry gets out of hand. When this happens, people spend a substantial proportion of their time worrying, without ever really resolving the issues they are worrying about. Despite trying hard to stop the worry, people find that it recurs incessantly and becomes very difficult to control. The kinds of issues people tend to worry about are:
- Work and/or school
- Minor matters such as punctuality
- Safety, including world events, car accidents, plane crashes etc
- Social and interpersonal issues
These worries typically involve persistent “what if?” thoughts, such as:
“What if I mess this up?”
“What if I fail this exam / lose my job?”
“What if I get cancer?”
“What if my children / parents get ill / have an accident?”
“What if I can’t keep up the mortgage payments?”
The anxiety associated with such worries often creates ongoing feelings of tension, agitation, irritability, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and/or difficulty concentrating. Sometimes the worrying thoughts can be so persistent that they interfere with productivity and performance at work or school, lead to chronic physical exhaustion or depressed mood, and get in the way of enjoying everyday life.
People often deal with their worries by seeking reassurance, such as calling family members to see if they are OK, or by trying to do things perfectly, such as working excessively on projects to eliminate possible mistakes. People also often avoid worry triggers, such as activities that they perceive as risky or things that set their worry in motion. This avoidance can lead to missing out on experiences and opportunities, and can promote procrastination, such as procrastinating on work tasks, or procrastinating about doing something stressful or dealing with issues such as paying bills.
With effective treatment, people can reduce their worrying to more manageable and normal levels, and reduce its impact on their lives.
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