Chronic, frequent and intense worrying is a variation of anxiety disorder that severely limits the quality of one’s life.
It’s an habitual response to stressful situations and feelings. Aside from how unproductive it tends to be, it also has long term effects on one’s body. It puts the body on sustained “high alert.” It activates stress hormones so a worrier feels high tension, surges of adrenaline racing through the body and has difficulty relaxing.
Chronic worriers often have a low-level belief that worrying somehow protects them against the feared threat. But it actually prevents learning better ways of coping with unpleasant situations.
Worry, uncomfortable and distressing though it is, often covers other feelings and thoughts one might prefer not facing, such as anger, sadness, fear or powerlessness. Or perhaps it shields one from acknowledging they’re in a dissatisfying relationship or needing to make actual changes in a current situation.
Worry is future-oriented, so it blocks people from being able to live in the present moment. It prevents people from awareness of particular feelings, and from using their [potentially available] mental and emotional resources to deal more effectively with perceived challenges.
So, in a strange way, worry is a primitive form of a “solution” to avoiding something that might seem (internally) more unpleasant to face. Yet the “solution” of constant and persistent worrying is far from a comfortable “fix” and is physically not good for the body.
Worriers tend to suffer greatly. They feel high anxiety, and by using worrying as a “solution” to handling problems, may not have developed more useful ways of coping with challenges.
Others are sometimes uncomfortable around chronic worriers. There seems to be a “contagion” factor that either elicits worry in themselves, or the reverse—they may begin to distance themselves from the worrier—which is the opposite of what a worried person needs. (People who are extraordinarily worried need comfort and reassurance, but sometimes fail to receive it because they lack the skills to deal with their fears and discomforts in more socially-connecting ways.)
In other words, for some people, the chronic and persistent habit of worrying can bring about the most catastrophic result of all—lack of closeness to those who could most help them cope with situations.
Psychotherapy can bring some relief to those with a chronic habit of worrying and stress. Learning new ways of handling emotions and thoughts, situation management and physical relaxation, can lead to improved quality of living.
Kathi Whitten, LCSW May 2011