Everyone worries sometimes. But if you’re experiencing chronic worrying, it may be a sign of a mental health disorder.
Ever feel like you’re holding your breath constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop? Do you find yourself worrying even when you’re not sure what you’re worried about? Do you worry about worrying?
If you answered yes, you’re not alone.
Many people experience chronic worrying. This is when a person worries and feels anxious even when there’s no obvious reason.
Although just about everyone worries sometimes, if you feel like your worrying is controlling your life, you may want to learn strategies to help quiet these thoughts.
There are steps you can take or help a loved one take to break the cycle of chronic worrying and let that breath out.
Chronic worrying happens when someone can’t manage their worries. If this is happening to you, you may notice that your mind can’t let go of these anxious thoughts even when there’s no direct threat.
People that chronically worry may find themselves preoccupied with what-if thinking or imagining the worst-case outcome for different scenarios. You may also have trouble managing your worrying about:
- family situations
- the state of the world
- other personal issues
Chronic worrying can make it hard to relax. It may cause you to feel a sense of impending doom or to be hyper-aware of your surroundings. However, it may also feel like your worrying serves a purpose — that you’re thinking ahead and being proactive.
Although it’s true that worrying has its time and place, if your worrying is preventing you from being able to enjoy the present moment and from doing the things you love, you may want to consider seeking help.
Excessive worrying can be a symptom of a mental health disorder. Three of the most common disorders that account for chronic worrying include:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- major depressive disorder (MDD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Although it’s very possible you or your loved one’s chronic worrying is a symptom of a mental health disorder, this is not always the case. You would need to be diagnosed by a mental health professional to know for sure.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Excessive worrying can be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
In fact, excessive, long-lasting worry or feelings of nervousness unrelated to stressful situations is a common way to characterize GAD. People with GAD tend to experience frequent feelings of worry and anxiety for months or even longer.
GAD is a very common mental health concern. It affects as many as 6.8 million adults living in the United States each year, which is 3.1% of the population.
GAD can cause other symptoms in addition to chronic worrying. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- feelings of restlessness
- being unable to relax
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling and staying asleep
- having unexplained pain including headaches and stomach aches
- sweating a lot
- shortness of breath
- trembling or twitching
- needing to use the bathroom frequently
GAD is just one type of anxiety disorder. Other common anxiety disorders include:
- Panic disorder: a condition in which you have recurrent panic attacks
- Social anxiety disorder: anxiety that’s specific to social situations
- Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety due to separation from certain loved ones
- Agoraphobia: fear of crowds or public places
- Specific phobia: intense, irrational fear of a specific object or situation (heights, spiders, etc.)
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), major depressive disorder (MDD) can also include symptoms that feel like excessive worrying.
These symptoms include:
- regularly feeling sad and anxious
- trouble falling and staying asleep
- feeling irritable, frustrated, or restless
- unexplained aches and pains
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The third common mental health disorder that accounts for chronic worrying is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Intrusive thoughts are one of the main characteristics of OCD, but generally, OCD is followed up by compulsions as well. These compulsions are generally a method a person uses to try to quiet their worrying and stress.
OCD compulsions are performed excessively and can include actions such as:
- checking on something (locked door, candle blown out, etc.)
- repeating a word or phrase
- arranging objects
- repeating an activity
If you notice that you or a loved one has any of these symptoms in addition to not being able to stop worrying, you may want to speak with a mental health professional. Help is available.
There are ways to break the cycle of chronic worrying. It takes practice and repetition, but chronic worrying doesn’t have to control your life.
Practice healthy habits
People who worry a lot can try practicing some healthy habits to help ease their worries including:
- Mindfulness meditation: Many people who excessively worry struggle to stay in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you learn to quiet your thoughts and focus on the now.
- Deep breathing exercises: Focusing on your breath can be a great way to calm your mind and body down when you’re feeling stressed. There are many different deep breathing techniques you can experiment with to find which one feels best for you.
- Exercise: Moving your body and elevating your heart rate can also be an effective way to manage stress and anxiety. Find something that feels good for your body and that you want to keep going back to. If you experience panic attacks, however, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional first before engaging in heavy exercise.
- Yoga: Similar to mindfulness meditation, yoga is a common way to practice quieting your mind and calming your nervous system. In fact, there are specific yoga poses that can help with lowering anxiety.
- Cutting back on caffeine: Research has indicated that caffeine can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. A 2022 study found that caffeine can worsen anxiety and panic attacks in those diagnosed with panic attack disorder. If you worry excessively and live with anxiety, you may want to reduce your intake of caffeine.
- Get good sleep: Worrying can make it much more difficult to fall asleep. You may need to prioritize your sleep health, therefore, and practice optimal sleep hygiene.
Therapy is another option that can help you manage your anxiety and relieve your worries.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective for treating anxiety and depression. It involves challenging existing thought and behavior patterns and developing healthy coping skills.
A doctor can normally refer you to a therapist or you can use the American Psychological Association’s Find a Therapist tool to find someone in your area.
If you are looking for people who understand what you are going through and can relate to living with chronic worries and share their coping strategies, a group therapy is another option.
There are options available in person and online so you can do what works for you. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a directory of both in person and online support groups available that is a good place to begin looking for a group.
If these healthy habits and support groups or therapy aren’t enough to ease your worries, you could consider talking to your doctor. There are medications that can help treat GAD or MDD including:
- antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines and buspirone
Medication can help, but it’s good to remember that it doesn’t instantly relieve anxiety symptoms. According to the NIMH, it can take
Everyone worries sometimes, but when you or a loved one can’t stop worrying it can be a sign of GAD or another mental health disorder. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you think you or a loved one needs help managing their worrying.
There are many options for managing chronic worrying. This can include any combination of habit changes, therapy, support groups, and medication.
With treatment and healthy lifestyle choices, it’s possible for people that worry excessively to remain in the present moment and start feeling more confident about managing the stresses of life.