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What is Worry: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Definition and Overview

Worry is the act of constantly thinking or being excessively concerned about a particular problem or situation. It is accompanied by a feeling of unease and anxiety and causes a person to become distracted as he focuses his thoughts on the possible negative scenarios that may occur and become overcome with unrealistic and unfounded fears. In severe forms, worry may cause high anxiety as well as panic, and may turn into a chronic problem when not addressed.

When worry becomes chronic, it can start permeating into other aspects of a person’s life, such as diet, relationships, sleep and relaxation, and career. It can decrease a person’s quality of life and may trigger negative lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, all of which may arise as a means of coping. In many ways, chronic worrying may endanger a person’s health.

Cause of Condition

Worry may be caused by stressful events that occur in a person’s life, especially major changes, such as:

  • A new job
  • Work problems
  • A new role, such as becoming a new husband/wife or a new parent
  • Personal problems
  • Problems with relationships
  • Financial issues

Worry coupled with feelings of anxiety may also be caused by certain disorders, such as:

  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

These disorders are shown by research to affect millions and millions of adults of practically any gender and race, and manifesting in many different ways.

Studies show that worry is a normal reaction of the mind to events occurring in a person’s life. Thus, people need a certain amount of worry in order for them to survive. Worrying a little about something is helpful in pushing a person to seek solutions or work hard to achieve a goal. It also helps a person anticipate future problems and prepare for them.

However, for many people, there is a tendency to react differently to worry, allowing it to take over instead of seeking solutions for it. It’s when the worrying becomes excessive that it also starts to become unhealthy. Worrying excessively may cloud a person’s thinking and judgment, rendering him unable to think clearly or focus on what’s really happening. He becomes overly focused on the subject of his worries. When high anxiety sets in, it becomes more difficult for the person to overcome or shake off their worries.

Once worry becomes a chronic problem, it may begin causing actual symptoms that affect a person’s physical well-being. This is because as the body begins to feel the stress caused by the chronic anxiety, it starts to respond to the stress, putting the body on a “red alert” or “survival” situation and releasing stress hormones.

Key Symptoms

A person experiencing chronic worry and stress may become more susceptible to the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Aches and pains
  • High levels of nervous energy
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sweating
  • Indigestion
  • Twitches

Chronic worrying can also trigger some chronic diseases, such as:

  • Hypertension/high blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Digestive disorders
  • Immune system deficiencies
  • Coronary artery disease not triggered by age or other factors
  • Myocardial infarction or heart attack
  • Depression

In severe cases, worry that leads to depression may cause a person to entertain suicidal thoughts.

Who to See And Types of Treatments Available

People who are experiencing constant worry should not dismiss their situation and allow their worries to negatively affect their health. Anybody feeling overwhelmed and constantly plagued with worry that it begins to cause physical symptoms should talk to someone about his situation; unloading concerns to another person may help a lot in easing feelings of anxiety. If a person does not have anyone to talk to about his or her problems, there are medical professionals such as therapists or psychiatrists who are trained specifically to help people cope with worry and anxiety.

The best treatment for worry and anxiety, however, are changes in lifestyle habits to make a person less vulnerable to stress. Some examples are:

  • Exercising regularly. As long as a person is not seriously ill and the doctor has not advised against physical activity, exercising on a regular basis can produce chemicals inside the body that boosts the immune system and makes a person more mentally and physically capable of dealing with stress.

  • Eating well. A healthy and balanced diet can help a person fend off the physical manifestations of worry. The higher nutritional value of a good diet will also increase a person’s ability to cope with the events in his or her life.

  • Avoiding caffeine. Caffeine tends to stimulate the nervous system and trigger stress and adrenaline responses, making a person feel more nervous than he should be.

  • Actively seeking periods of rest and relaxing activities. A person suffering from constant worry should also consciously embark on relaxation techniques to counter the tendency to sink into anxiety. There are many relaxation techniques available, such as deep breathing, listening to music, reading, taking a walk, or doing yoga.

  • Meditation. Since the mind is the source of worries, it helps to empty the mind by meditating. Meditation helps to calm the body and thus hinders the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

  • Engage in sports. Doing physical activities can serve as a distraction but can also help a person stay physically healthy even in the midst of a stressful situation in life.

A person who is overwhelmed with worry and anxiety may also talk to a general practitioner or family doctor. Doctors may prescribe some medications such as antidepressants. If the worry and stress have caused physical symptoms, other medications to relieve the latter may also be prescribed. However, this does not ensure that the worrying will not come back. Thus, all forms of stress management techniques should still be accompanied by positive lifestyle changes to fend off excessive worrying for good.


  • National Institute of Mental Health: “Anxiety Disorders” and "Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)."

  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America: “Brief Overview of Anxiety Disorders.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”