Why We Worry -by Victoria Stern

Chronic worrying stems from a craving for control. But the more we fret, the less our bodies are able to cope with stress.

Key Concepts
Worrying about the future is a natural tendency, but for some people it is a constant, unwelcome state of mind. These chronic worriers crave a sense of control they can never seem to find.
Spending too much time fretting actually undermines the body’s ability to react to stress, weakening the cardiovascular system and disrupting normal emotional functioning.
When overworrying seriously threatens a person’s health and happiness, drugs or psychotherapy can help.

The young girl wanted to unburden herself about her problem. She told her doctor that she worried excessively and that she felt overwhelmed by these thoughts. One memory that she described to Douglas Mennin, director of the Yale Anxiety and Mood Services at Yale University, was particularly telling. Her grandmother had shared intense feelings about the recent passing of a good friend. As the young girl listened, her mind wandered to thoughts of her grandmother dying. The worry soon spiraled into concerns about the girl’s own death. She became so disturbed, she cut short her visit to her grandmother and ran home.

Psychologists believe that worry, defined as a person’s negative thoughts about a future event, evolved as a constructive problem-solving behavior. But excessive fretting—as happened with the girl—does more harm than good. Chronic worriers operate under the misperception that their overthinking and attempts at controlling every situation allow them to problem-solve and plan for the future. Instead their thought pattern hinders cognitive processing and also causes overstimulation of emotion- and fear-processing areas in the brain. The hypervigilance that is the result can lead to cardiovascular problems, ultimately rendering the body unable to cope properly with stress.

An improved understanding of how excessive worry (the thought-driven aspect), which is linked with anxiety (the emotional element), affects our mental and physical functions can help us cope with this often self-induced foible.

Craving Control
Worry began to draw the attention of researchers about 25 years ago, when they started to fine-tune their understanding of the spectrum of anxiety-related pathologies. In the early 1980s psychologist Thomas Borkovec of Pennsylvania State University, a pioneer in this field, became interested in the trait while investigating sleep disorders. He found that intrusive cognitive activity at bedtime—worrying—was a factor in insomnia. -see full article at Sci Am

About DigitalPlato

Poch is a Bookrix author and a freelance writer. He is a frequent contributor to TED Conversations.
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4 Responses to Why We Worry -by Victoria Stern

  1. Victoria Kizito Timmers-Niemer says:

    Hi Victoria,

    I read your article ‘Why We Worry’ in Scientific American Mind (Behavior – Brain Science – Insights) Nov/Dec 2009 and loved it, so I tweeted it on Twitter, for others to read. Hope you have a happy, healthy and succesful 2010! @VictoriaKizito

  2. Good post and info – thanks!

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