Everyone worries, it’s quite normal and is actually quite helpful for most people. Worry involves your brain bringing up things that could go wrong, and ideally you then work through the potential problem and find a solution. Sometimes you brain will keep serving up the same problem until you find a solution, and once you do the worry goes away. In fact, the ability to thinking about future problems is perhaps one of the greatest things about the human brain, and one of the main reasons why humans have come to be such a successful species.
However, for some people, perhaps around 5% of the population, worry is not helpful, and in fact it can be very disabling. Problematic worry involves some or all of the following:
- Constant thoughts of things going wrong
- A sense of dread or foreboding
- Irritability or frustration
- Muscle tension
- Aches and pains
- Alcohol or drug use
There are at least two ways that worry can be a problem. The first is when a person worries about things they cannot control that well. This could be about things like health, finances, family well-being and so on. The person may then do things to stop the feared thing from happening, like being over protective or cautious, constantly seeking reassurance, or using alcohol or drugs to cope. These ‘coping behaviours’ impact negatively on the person’s quality of life.
The second way that worry is a problem is when they person moves from one worry to the next. Some people find that they worry continuously about anything and everything. Even if they find a solution to a worry, their brain will just move to the next thing.
In the both of these cases the ‘problem’ the person worries about is not necessary the problem. It is that the person’s brain has got into the habit of worrying, since the problem is either unfixable, or the person just moves from one worry to the next.
When worry is severe and pervasive the person may be given a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.
GAD can be effectively treated with therapies like CBT (LINK), ACT (LINK) and Mindfulness Based Therapies (LINK). The treatment tends to be a bit longer than for other forms of anxiety, but good outcomes are generally achieved.