Excessive Worrying: When Normal Concerns Spiral into Dread and Anxiety
Are you an excessive worrier? I know I am.
I assume that things will end up badly. I think that if I worry enough about a certain situation I can control the outcome or prevent unpleasant surprises.
But I’ve learned that excessive worrying isn’t “productive” or “solution-oriented” at all. In fact, it’s the polar opposite.
Not only does all this worrying interfere with my—and your—quality of life, but it can also have serious adverse effects physical health.
Call 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) to speak to a mental health treatment specialist.
“Normal” Worrying vs Excessive Worrying
Worry is defined as feeling uneasy and concerned about a situation or problem. And it’s a normal aspect of life. After all, it’s natural to worry about the well-being of your children, your finances, or an upcoming job interview.
But “normal” worry becomes excessive when it’s consistent and all-consuming.
With excessive worrying, your mind and body are always on edge because you’re constantly focused on what might happen, often on worst-case scenarios.
These thoughts can become so persistent and uncontrollable that they start to feel like they’re taking over your life.
When Excessive Worrying is More Than Worry
Chronic excessive worrying can also be a major symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is a common anxiety disorder.
GAD is characterized by:
- Worrying that feels uncontrollable
- Restlessness or being on edge
- Concentration and cognition issues
- Physical tension
- Sleep issues
The excessive worrying related to GAD involves feeling fearful or worried about numerous unrelated events or activities on a daily basis. These symptoms appear most days for at least 6 months if you have GAD.
Excessive worrying is also related to other anxiety disorders, as well as to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Those who have clinical anxiety constantly anticipate catastrophes and are overly concerned about specific, narrow issues. For example, you may feel dread about the safety of your family even when nothing in reality gives you a specific reason to feel concerned.
Consequences of Chronic Worrying
Chronic excessive worrying can affect virtually every aspect of your daily life, including your relationships, sleep, appetite, and job performance.
Many people who worry excessively cope by using unhelpful or unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or using alcohol or drugs.
Chronic worrying can also trigger a physical health problems. Excessive worrying and anxiety can trigger the body’s fight or flight response, which causes the body’s nervous system to release stress hormones, such as cortisol.
These hormones can then cause physical reactions, such as:
- Muscle tension
- Stomach problems
Worrying over a prolonged period can lead to even more severe problems, such as digestive disorders, heart issues, and the weakening of the body’s immune system.
Coping Strategies You Can Use at Home
If you find yourself plagued with constant worry and stress, there are steps you can take to ease your mind and live a less fearful life.
Schedule a Daily Worry Session
Instead of dwelling on worries all day, set aside 15 minutes each day where you allow yourself to focus on problems and fears. Mull them over for the allotted time and then once time is up, vow to let them go for the rest of the day.
If you find yourself going back into “worry mode,” jot down your worry and set it aside for your next scheduled worry session. Then get back to enjoying your day.
If you find that you can’t control your excessive worry in this way, you may need the help of a professional.
Focus on Your Breathing
Research has found that slow breathing techniques can help ease symptoms during times of stress, as they are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation and balance, as well as regulate the body’s fight-or-flight response by decreasing heart rate and blood pressure.
Experts have studied the effects of multiple slow-breathing techniques, including:
- 4×4—Breathing in for four counts, and then breathing out for four counts, for a set number of time or number of cycles.
- Alternate nostrils—Breathing in and out slowly through one nostril while holding the other closed, then repeated with the other nostril.
- Abdominal breathing (belly breathing)—Breathing “through” your stomach by intentionally inflating your belly fully, then breathing out to fully empty your belly. Belly breathing works best while lying down.
Coping Strategies You Can Learn With Help of a Professional
Attending treatment or opening up to a therapist can be very beneficial, as he or she can help put your worries and fears into perspective and make them feel more manageable.
Challenge your Thought Pattern
Once negative thoughts pop up in your brain, they can quickly. One way to combat this situation is to challenge your worries and fears and ask yourself a few questions.
Is there a way to look at the situation in a more positive light? What’s the probability that what you’re worried about will actually happen? What facts exist that make what you’re worrying about seem true?
This technique is a fundamental part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is one of the frontline treatments for clinical anxiety.
Distinguish Between Solvable and Unsolvable Worries
For solvable worries, such as being able to pay your bills on time, come up with a game plan. Start brainstorming all of the possible solutions to this particular worrying thought.
Focusing on the things you have the power to change rather than those circumstances beyond your control will help you feel proactive.
If you can’t soothe your worry, work on embracing the uncertainty. The reality is, worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. Regardless of how much time you spend dwelling on what could go wrong, you’re no more prepared to deal with these problems, should they actually happen.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one type of therapy used to identify when you are worrying excessively about things you cannot control and help you learn to cope.
Developing Coping Strategies
A therapist can help you identify the types of thoughts and beliefs that trigger feelings of anxiety and worry.
Your therapist can also assist you in developing the appropriate coping strategies to alleviate the severity and emotional impact of worries and fears.
If your excessive worrying consumes your time and takes away from the things that matter most to you, consider speaking to a professional about your anxiety symptoms. Call 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) to find health today.