The most recent issue of Scientific American: Mind includes a a feature on chronic worrying – its causes and effects, both mental and physical (November/December 2009, 20, 40-47). For someone who comes from a family of worry-warts, and very much is one herself, I find “Why We Worry” provides a fascinating peek into the worried mind, explaining the rhyme and reason behind repeated anxieties.
Psychologists believe that worry, defined as a person’s negative thoughts about a future event, evolved as a constructive problem-solving behavior. But excessive fretting—as happened with the girl—does more harm than good. Chronic worriers operate under the misperception that their overthinking and attempts at controlling every situation allow them to problem-solve and plan for the future. Instead their thought pattern hinders cognitive processing and also causes overstimulation of emotion- and fear-processing areas in the brain. The hypervigilance that is the result can lead to cardiovascular problems, ultimately rendering the body unable to cope properly with stress.
The article offers “six simple tips and tricks you can use to cope with the stresses of every day life,” and while those little ‘fix-it’ boxes are often unhelpful and even patronizing, the recommendations included in this article were actually interesting – a few I had heard before, a few entirely novel, such as reserving a period of time in your day exclusively for worrying! See box below.
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