Worry Much? Too Much is Bad for Your Health

Do you worry often? Do people who know you consider you a worrywart?

It turns out, a lot of people worry. A new research study found that 38 percent of us worry every day. Worry is when you think about actual or potential problems and think of bad things that have or could happen.

Worrying can be a productive mental exercise, but it can cross a line and become excessive. When that happens, worrying can be harmful to your mental health.

Research suggests that consistent worrying can have both short- and long-term effects on your well-being. Simply stated, worrying is a behavior that can steal joy, affecting sleep and decision making.

The study, sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance, collected some interesting information about worrying:

  • Early morning and late evening are the most common times to worry.
  • Financial and housing worries top the list for people from age 25 to 44.
  • Women in the study tend to worry about relationships and health.
  • Men tend to worry about work.
  • People who are single, separated or divorced tend to worry about finances and housing.
  • Managers have more symptoms of excessive worry — anxiety and depression — than workers.
  • We worry less as we age. Older adults often say they regret the time they spent worrying.

How Well Do You Tolerate Uncertainty?

For about half of us, worrying is a way to come up with a solution to a problemIf you come up with a solution and then move on, that's mentally healthy. The study found about a third of the time people quit worrying once they develop a solution.

However, some people still find it hard to stop worrying if they aren’t satisfied with their solution. The researchers found this type of worry can become a habit they dubbed “a process looking for content.”

How Much Is Too Much?

The researchers said excessive worriers usually have multiple topics they worry about. If something triggers a worry about one topic, it can seep into other topics. Issues can move back and forth like worry wildfires.

Some people can’t control their worrying. Excessive worrying can leave them less likely to find a solution to their problems. Not finding solutions can lead to pathological worrying — in medical terms we call this Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This is condition characterized by excessive worry about everyday concerns, such as finances, work, school, relationships or family. This level of worrying is not mentally healthy. A qualified mental health professional can help individuals with GAD develop effective coping strategies.

Make Worrying Productive

Here are some tips to help you transition from unproductive worrying to effective solution development:

  1. Pencil it in: Instead of worry sneaking up on you throughout the day to steal your moments and mood, you can schedule time to focus on your everyday worries and consider possible solutions. Pick a time of day and set aside about 30 minutes. You’ll find the time may come and go without you even having to use it.
  2. Break it down: Replace obsessing with a conscientious plan. If approaching problems such as a work project or tackling home improvements feels overwhelming, you can break the challenge into parts, reducing worry in the long run. Here are five steps to help you break down problems: — Define the problem. — Gather information about the problem. — Generate potential solutions. — Evaluate and choose your best solution. — Put your solution into action.
  3. Accept uncertainty: One of the most significant predictors of worry is the intolerance of uncertainty. For example, if you’re moving, you may worry about things getting lost or damaged. What’s a solution? Take proactive steps such as documenting your possessions. This can help give you peace of mind in case something happens.

If you’re worried about worrying, you may want to explore your stress management options. Stress is proven to have negative consequences for your health. If you have concerns about the mental health of someone you care about, there are understanding and caring professionals you can turn to for help.

Meet the Author

Munther A. Barakat, PSYD is a Clinical Psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Program at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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