Worry is a complex emotion. When we worry over things that are appropriately concerning, we focus our energy on avoiding pain or distress. However, when we worry about things that we shouldn’t, it can lead to increased stress levels that lower our mental health.

What is worry?

Worry describes the thoughts and feelings that tell us that there are risks and dangers associated with a person, event, or situation. Sometimes, worry is targeted to a specific trigger, such as an upcoming medical procedure, test, or first date. Other times, worry is a generalized, blanket emotion that impacts a person’s state of mind.

Because worry centers around risks and dangers, it can be an adaptive feeling that keeps us out of trouble. It’s when we excessively worry about things that are out of our control that worry becomes an issue. It’s natural to feel worried about something that will happen no matter what you do, and that’s where our coping skills come into play. Excessive worry that doesn’t respond to coping or relaxation skills may be a sign of a larger mental health issue.

Types of worry

There are many different types of worry, some of which can be described as anxieties or fears. These types of worry can impact a person’s daily life and negatively influence their mental health. Some types of worry are a symptom of a mental health condition and can cause conflict with other people.

Here are a few types of worry:

  • Generalized anxiety is when someone has a deep sense of chronic worry, without a specific target or trigger.
  • Social anxiety makes it difficult for someone to engage in social interactions. They tend to fear that other people will judge or reject them.
  • Phobias are intense fears of specific triggers. People who have phobias will avoid these triggers at all costs, even when it becomes difficult to accommodate the avoidance.
  • Obsessive compulsive worry makes a person so occupied with a risk or danger – which can be unrealistic or falsely perceived – that they alter their behavior to attempt to feel less worried.

Symptoms of worry

Worry can be a very uncomfortable emotion. It’s a complex emotion that includes many other emotions under its surface. When someone is worried, they might:

  • Feel anxious or panicked, sometimes to the point of having a panic attack
  • Be restless, unable to sit still, or fidgety
  • Have a sense of impending doom or anticipated pain
  • Tremble, sweat, or cry
  • Have trouble concentrating, following instructions, or remembering details
  • Have difficulty falling or staying asleep, or having vivid dreams
  • Be unable to stop thinking about their concern
  • Develop a headache, stomachache, or body aches

When these symptoms become overwhelming, it’s important to seek the support of a licensed therapist.

Therapy for worry

Therapists who specialize in treating worry create a safe, comfortable atmosphere for clients to talk openly about their fears. Therapy is a nonjudgmental space and therapists are trained to help clients better understand the root causes of their worry. Clients will talk about how their worry impacts their daily lives and their relationships. Therapists may encourage clients to share their inner dialogues, including any negative self-talk. Therapists then can identify where there are cognitive distortions or instances of warped thinking that lead to the assumption of risk or danger.

Clients also learn how to cope with their worry through emotion regulation and relaxation techniques. They learn how to tell when a situation is within their control and when it is outside of their control, which can help decrease the feelings of worry. Therapy can help not only reduce the feelings of worry but also grow self-confidence.