March 2010 
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This article explores the nature of obsessive worry and provides the reader with strategies for controlling gaining control. I hope you or someone you know finds this to be informative and helpful.

 Excessive Worry and Obsessive Thinking
 Learn How to Gain Control

Worried Man We all experience worry in our lives. It may be about work, money or relationship problems. You may worry about your kids, your health, aging parents or retirement. All of this is completely normal. It's important to keep in mind that worrying can have a useful purpose. It allows us to not forget about things that are very important to us - paying our bills, attending to our health, studying for a test, staying safe, etc. So when does worry become a problem in itself?

Worry can become problematic when it begins to interfere with your day to day functioning. You may be preoccupied and unable to focus on other things. If you worry excessively you may begin to develop problems in your relationships as those around you become frustrated or angry when unable to reassure you. For some, excessive worry can become obsessive in nature and so wide spread that it becomes very debilitating.

One of the first steps in controlling excessive worry is to try to identify what your anxiety may be telling you. Is there something that you have forgotten to do? Have you neglected your needs in some way? Your anxiety or worry may be telling you that you need to do something (typically something you've been putting off or avoiding). Of course, this is not always the case as often there appears to be no immediate answers or solutions to resolve your worry.

Anxiety and worry are typically the byproduct of thinking in a catastrophic, or worst case scenario way. Also there is a tendency to engage in a "what if" style of thinking. For many, mental images or feared fantasies set in motion an anxious response. By changing these types of thinking patterns, you can learn to reduce the amount of worry you have. Here are some suggestions that you can start using right away.

Try to identify the exact nature of your worry. Ask yourself "What exactly am I worried about?" and write that down on a piece of paper. If you tend to think in a "what if" manner, try to reframe your worry a statement rather than a question. For example, instead of "What if I lose my job?" you would say "I'm going to lose my job". Sometimes a simple change in your "self-talk" can highlight how unrealistic your worry is.

Once you have identified your worry, try to evaluate this thought by engaging your rational mind. Approach your thought as if you were thinking like a lawyer. For instance you can ask yourself: Is there any evidence or proof to confirm or support this worry? How do I know that this is going to happen? Can I be 100% sure? Is there any evidence to suggest that it might not happen? Have I had this worry before? If so, what was the outcome? Even if the worst did happen, could I live through it? How likely is this to happen? What's the best case, worst case and most realistic outcome? Writing down your responses to these questions can quickly help you put your fears in perspective. Over time, this process becomes internalized as a new way of thinking.

There are also relaxation skills that you can learn - deep breathing, muscle relaxation and imagery techniques to name a few. Although, these skills may not necessarily stop you from worrying, they can provide you with the tools that you need to reduce your anxiety when needed.

If you feel that your worry is out of control then you should consult with a qualified mental health professional or your family doctor who will conduct an evaluation to determine the nature of your anxiety and available treatment options. The good news is that anxiety disorders are very treatable. Taking action is the first step to gaining control.

To read more about anxiety and obessive worry visit the Anxiety Disorders page on our website. You might also be interested in reading about Panic Disorder, Social Phobia or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.


For more information on a variety of mental health topics including free downloadable handouts and tools, visit the resources section of our website.


Dr. Given
Dennis Given, Psy.D. - Psychologist & Director
Psychology Associates of Chester County, Inc.

phone: (610) 873-4748
fax: (610) 873-4715
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