What are the signs of worry?


Worry is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. However, for some people, worry can become excessive and lead to anxiety disorders that significantly impact daily life. Recognizing the signs of problematic worry is an important first step in getting help. This article explores the differences between normal worry and excessive worry, the main signs and symptoms, and when to seek support.

What are the signs of worry?

What is worry?

Worry refers to anxious thoughts and feelings about real or imagined threats or negative events that could happen in the future. A certain level of worry can be beneficial as it helps motivate people to prepare for challenges or hazards. However, worrying excessively about unlikely or minor problems is unproductive and distressing.

Worry becomes problematic when it is:

  • Excessive - Worrying more intensely and frequently than the situation calls for.
  • Uncontrollable - Difficulty stopping worrying once it starts.
  • Interfering - Worrisome thoughts disrupt daily life and functioning.

Differences between normal worry and excessive worry

Normal worry:

  • Focuses on realistic problems or upcoming events
  • Motivates people to take constructive action
  • Subsides once a solution is found or the event passes
  • Does not significantly impair daily activities

Excessive, problematic worry:

  • Focuses on unlikely threats or exaggerated worst-case scenarios
  • Causes distressing and persistent anxiety
  • Is unproductive and unrealistic
  • Disrupts ability to focus and complete tasks
  • Interferes with relationships, work, and leisure activities

Signs and symptoms of problematic worry

The main signs and symptoms of excessive worry that are considered problematic include:

Difficulty controlling worrisome thoughts

  • Mind constantly focused on worries
  • Intrusive “what if...” thoughts
  • Unproductive obsessing and ruminating
  • Worries feel uncontrollable once they start

Physical anxiety symptoms

  • Muscle tension, headaches, fatigue
  • Restlessness, feeling “on edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances

Avoidance and distress

  • Avoiding situations that trigger worry
  • Distressing and persistent anxiety
  • Difficulty tolerating uncertainty
  • Low mood, lack of motivation

Interference with daily life

  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Harder to initiate and complete tasks
  • Lower performance at work or school
  • Strained relationships
  • Less engagement in social, leisure, or exercise activities

When does worry become excessive or problematic?

There is no specific threshold that distinguishes “normal” worry from excessive worry. However, there are some general guidelines:

  • If worry feels uncontrollable, persists for over 6 months, and happens more days than not, it may be excessive.
  • If worry causes significant distress, avoidance behavior, difficulty functioning, or physical symptoms, it is likely problematic.
  • If worry disrupts your daily routine, relationships, job performance, or schoolwork, seek help.
  • If you spend over 1 hour a day worrying, it is likely interfering with your life.

Keep in mind that we all worry to some degree. The important question is whether worry is making life much harder for you or your loved one.

What causes excessive worry and anxiety?

For some people, worrying comes naturally and serves as a coping mechanism for life’s stresses and uncertainties. Excessive worry may also result from underlying issues like:

  • Trauma or adverse life experiences - Past emotional trauma or abuse can make people more prone to worrying.
  • Genetics - Anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have a genetic component.
  • Brain chemistry - Neurotransmitter imbalances affect parts of the brain involved in worry.
  • Personality - Tendency towards pessimism, risk aversion, perfectionism, or people-pleasing.
  • Stress - Major life stressors can trigger persistent worry.

While worrying may start as a coping mechanism, over time chronic worry can take on a life of its own. Worriers get in the habit of fixating on possible threats, making it hard to stop.

Disorders linked to excessive worry

For some individuals, chronic excessive worry is a symptom associated with certain mental health conditions like:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) - Excessive and difficult to control worry about everyday things is the main symptom. Physical anxiety symptoms are also present.
  • Social anxiety disorder - Extreme worry about social situations due to concern over being negatively judged. This can lead to avoidance of social activities.
  • Panic disorder - Recurring panic attacks along with persistent worry about future attacks.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - Unwanted intrusive thoughts cause chronic anxiety. Compulsions and rituals are done to try to alleviate this distress.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Severe worrying and anxiety may occur after experiencing trauma along with flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Depression - Excessive worry accompanied by feeling down, fatigued, worthless, or suicidal.

Getting an accurate diagnosis from a mental health professional is important to guide treatment.

Health impacts of chronic worry

Excessive worry is detrimental to both mental and physical health. Potential health effects include:

  • Increased risk for mental health disorders like clinical depression and substance abuse
  • Impaired immune system functioning
  • Cardiovascular strain and increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome
  • Headaches, muscle tension, back pain
  • Poorer sleep quality, fatigue
  • Decreased quality of life and life satisfaction

Chronic stress from excessive worry also increases inflammation in the body which can worsen conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

When to seek help for worrying

It is advisable to seek support if:

  • You worry excessively for over 6 months
  • Worry causes significant distress and interferes with your daily functioning
  • Physical anxiety symptoms are present like muscle tension, fatigue, irritability
  • You use alcohol or drugs to cope with anxiety from worrying
  • Your worrying is causing problems in relationships
  • Worries seem uncontrollable and pervasive
  • Your mood is low and worry stops you from enjoying life

Speaking to a doctor is recommended as the first step. They can check for any underlying medical issues and refer you to a licensed mental health professional like a psychologist or therapist for diagnosis and treatment.

Friends and family can also offer important emotional support. There are also worry support groups where you can share experiences and effective coping strategies.

Treatments for problematic worry

Counseling, medication, self-help strategies, or a combination may be used to treat excessive worry based on each person's symptoms and needs.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective for teaching practical strategies to manage chronic worrying. Exposure therapy can help reduce avoidance behaviors.


Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed. However, medication alone is usually inadequate without therapy.

Self-help strategies

Useful techniques include mindfulness exercises, distraction, exercise, limiting worrying to a set time, and thinking more positively.

With appropriate treatment, people can regain control over worrying and restore balance to their lives.

Coping with normal worry

Learning to manage day-to-day worries can help prevent them from escalating. Some healthy coping strategies include:

  • Focusing on solutions within your control, rather than ruminating over uncertainties.
  • Sharing feelings with trusted friends or relatives to gain perspective.
  • Taking constructive action where possible, such as preparing for challenging situations.
  • Setting aside dedicated “worry time” rather than worrying all day.
  • Doing relaxing activities like walking, reading, or listening to music.
  • Avoiding excess alcohol and stimulant use.
  • Getting enough sleep, healthy food, and regular exercise.
  • Using mindfulness and meditation techniques.
  • Seeking counseling if worries persistently interfere with functioning.


In summary, worry becomes problematic when it is excessive, uncontrollable, distressing, and starts interfering with day-to-day life. Seeking help is recommended if worry lasts over 6 months, causes physical symptoms and disrupts your routine. Treatments like CBT, medication, and self-help can be effective. If you are experiencing any signs of problematic worry, reach out to a doctor or mental health professional. With the right strategies and support, you can overcome excessive worry and anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between concern and worry?

Concern involves thoughts about a real problem and motivates action. Worry tends to be repetitive, distressing thoughts about uncertain or unlikely outcomes. Most worry has an anxious, catastrophic focus.

Is worrying the same as anxiety?

Worry and anxiety are closely related. Anxiety describes physical and mental symptoms like feeling tense or on edge. Worry refers specifically to anxious thoughts. Excessive, distressing worry is a core symptom of many anxiety disorders.

Can some worrying be helpful?

A certain level of worry about actual problems can be beneficial by motivating preparation and prevention. But excessive worrying about unlikely outcomes is unproductive.

Is worrying a sign of weakness?

No, worrying does not indicate weakness or a character flaw. Problematic worry and anxiety disorders have biological causes like genetics and brain chemistry. Counseling and medication are effective medical treatments.

Can worrying affect physical health?

Yes, research shows chronic worry contributes to issues like headaches, gastrointestinal distress, high blood pressure, poorer immune function, and cardiovascular strain. Excessive worry is very draining.

How can I control my worrying?

Useful strategies include positive thinking, present moment focus, dividing worry time from non-worry time, deep breathing, exercise, and seeking therapy. Don't avoid situations, as limiting exposure increases anxiety over time.

When should I consider medications for worrying?

If worrying persists for over 6 months despite practicing self-help techniques, anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication may be beneficial. Medication is especially helpful when paired with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

What natural remedies help with worrying?

Some natural supplements that may help dial down worry include magnesium, lavender oil, chamomile, passionflower, and adaptogens like ashwagandha. Relaxing activities like yoga, meditation, or massage therapy can also aid anxiety relief.

Can kids and teens have issues with excessive worrying too?

Yes, anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder often begin in childhood. Look for signs like trouble sleeping, fatigue, avoidance of school or socializing, tantrums, clinging behavior, or frequent physical complaints. Seeking evaluation from a child psychologist is recommended.

Resources used to write this article

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