Are you a worry wart? A nervous Nellie? Do you constantly fret about
everything and anything from your health to how you are perceived at work to
whether or not a terror strike is imminent?
If this sounds like you, then you may be worrying your life away. This
excessive worry doesn't just affect your mental health; it also can wreak havoc on your physical
well-being. That's why WebMD spoke with experts about the reasons some of us
worry excessively -- and ways to break this cycle and regain your life.
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Why are some people so prone to "what if disease," while others
merely worry about something when it happens?
There are several reasons, explains Robert L. Leahy, PhD, the author of
The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You and the director
of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City.
"There is a genetic component," he says. "There are also nurture
or non-nurture factors."
Overprotective parents tend to raise worriers as well, he says. "Reverse
parenting may also play a role." This occurs when
the child is taking care of the parents because they are not functioning
"There is probably is a biological component to chronic worry, but there
is also an early environment component," agrees Sandy Taub, PsyD, a
psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Wilmington, Del. "The
feeling of safety that 'my mother will keep me safe' should be internalized and
grow along with you so that, for the most part, you feel secure," she
"But if you had a mom who was not as available and not consistent, you
can develop the mind-set that the world is not such a safe place." Divorce and overprotection can also gnaw away at a
person's feelings of internal safety and security.
What Makes Us Worry?
So now we know who worries, but why do they worry? "People worry because
they think something bad will happen or could happen, so they activate a
hypervigilant strategy of worry and think that 'if I worry I can prevent this
bad thing from happening or catch it early,'" Leahy says. Put another way:
If you didn't worry, things might get out of hand. The worrier's credo is that
if you can simply imagine something bad happening, it's your responsibility to
worry about it.
And all this worry can affect your physical as well as your mental health.
Worriers tend to be overutilizers of the health care system, meaning they see
their doctor for just about every ache and pain, Leahy says.
"Worriers are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, fatigue, and aches and pains," he says. In
addition, 93% of people with generalized anxiety disorder also have an
overlapping psychiatric disorder such as depression, according to Leahy.