Self-Help Information: Worry
What is Worry?
Worry is a form of thinking that can be stressful if taken to extreme.
Key features of worry are that it is repetitive and non-productive.
When we are worrying, we are thinking about something over and over
again but do not resolve the situation or arrive at a solution to
the problem. When we continually think about the exam that will be
given next week and imagine many distressing outcomes, yet do not
study or do something to release tension, we are worrying. When a
close friend or family member is late and we begin to imagine all
variety of accidents that may have befallen them, we are worrying.
Frequently, there is nothing that can be done, but we worry anyway.
The Good and the Bad
At times, worry can be beneficial, such as when it encourages us
to take action to change a situation. If we are really worried about
an upcoming test, and determine that it means we have to study more
or talk with the professor, then worry has been useful. When worry
helps us plan for an upcoming event by imagining the various
scenarios that might come about, it can be helpful. Worry becomes a
problem, however, when it leads to continual anxiety and fear or
when it consists of continually repeating the same thinking pattern
over and over. Worry can also have negative effects on both your
body and your mind. It may cause physical problems such as an upset
stomach, headaches, and muscle tension. It may be more difficult to
concentrate or focus on other things while you are worrying.
How Much is Too Much?
Are you a mellow person who never seems to worry about things you
cannot control? Or are you seen as a worrywart, always thinking
about what might happen? How much distress does this create in your
daily life? How much people worry and the problems it causes for
people is on a continuum. Craske, Barlow and O’Leary recommend
asking yourself the following questions to determine if you are
worrying too much:
Do you worry about things that you recognize most people do not
worry about (such as little things around your home)?
Do you find it very difficult to stop worrying, and cannot relax
as a result?
Does your worry rarely result in your reaching a possible
solution for a particular problem?
Do you believe that if you do not worry a terrible event will
Do you worry about not being worried, or worry when everything
is going well in your life?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
If your worry is interfering with your daily life and you
experience a high level of physical tension, you may fit the
criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is
characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and
tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal
anxiety most people experience. People with this disorder usually
expect the worst; they worry excessively about money, health,
family, or work, even though they usually realize that their anxiety
is more intense than the situation warrants. People with GAD also
seem unable to relax and often have trouble falling or staying
asleep. Their worries are accompanied by physical symptoms,
especially trembling, twitching, muscle tension, headaches,
irritability, sweating, or hot flashes. GAD comes on gradually and
most often hits people in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in
adulthood, too. It’s more common in women than in men and often
occurs in relatives of affected persons. Some research suggests that
GAD may grow worse during stress.
(The above information about GAD was condensed from a public
domain brochure produced by the National Institute of Mental Health.
For the full text of the brochure, visit the NIMH website at
What Should I Do?
There are many techniques that can help you control your worry.
Shift your focus of attention away from your worry. Practice
"Thought Stopping" telling yourself to STOP your current thought
and shift your focus to another more pleasing thought (a day at
Learn physical and mental relaxation through techniques such as
deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery or
Write down your worries. Sometimes, the act of writing worries
down allows you to let go of the circular worry process.
Schedule a time for worrying. When a worry comes to mind, tell
yourself you will worry about it at a specific time (say 6 pm)
and shift your focus to something else. At 6 pm, make sure you
take fifteen or twenty minutes to examine your worries from the
Review the books listed below for more information and
If your self-help efforts are not effective or your worry is
distressing you or making it difficult to enjoy life and accomplish
your goals, seek professional help.
Various types of counseling and psychotherapy have been shown
effective in helping with excessive worry. Particular techniques
include Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, relaxation techniques, and
biofeedback. Some medications have also been useful in the treatment
of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Consultation with a mental health
professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or social
worker) will help you determine the best treatment for you.
Recommended Books to Read
This workbook describes many techniques for coping with worry
based on the author’s personal experience and her interviews
with individuals who struggle with worry. The book is
interspersed with quotations from her study participants that
guide the reader in understanding and working with their own
worry. She focuses initially on analyzing your own personal
worry patterns and styles, and describing techniques for dealing
with worry such as focusing, journaling, taking action, and
problem solving. The second part of the book addresses specific
worries and suggests self-help techniques for each topic.
Part I of this book provides a general overview of worry
including a discussion of the positive outcomes of worry, the
biological basis of worry, and a self-assessment quiz to
determine how much of a worrier you are. Part II examines many
different types of worry including worry in relationships, at
work, and worry associated with depression. The relationship
between worry and other anxiety disorders such as Panic, OCD,
and GAD is discussed. Part III lists a variety of techniques to
control worry including taking action, changing thoughts,
exercise, and letting go.
Need Additional Help?
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these and
related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY). For more
information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:
Donna J. Scott, PhD
The information contained in these self help
documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care. Neither the
authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary Medicine
assume liability for injury incurred by following the information presented in
these self-help documents