A common discussion in my office often goes like this:
Psychologist :"Do you worry a lot?"
Client: "No - I think about random, non-relevant things and I can't shut my mind off". The next question usually is:
P: "do you find yourself over-analyzing things?"
C:"yes, I run multiple scenarios about all the possible what-ifs that could happen".
P: "how long have you been over-analyzing things"
C: "oh, for as long as I can remember"
We all worry from time to time, particularly if there is some stressful event out of the norm, for example an upcoming job interview or several bills due at one time. However, worry becomes more of a concern in regards to mental health, when it occurs frequently, consumes a large part of your day, and you experience difficulty in shutting off from your thoughts. Typically, people tend to experience worries at night and it may impede on their ability to fall asleep quickly (even a few hours to drop off to sleep) or they are unable to get back to sleep if they wake up during the night. People who worry all the time often describe themselves as feeling "on edge" or "keyed up" for no real reason. Worry can be about trivial events - for example thinking about all the activities you need to do the following day - or it can be about reviewing the day; how your friend reacted to your text message; about running late; potential health problems; or about anything at all. At the core of the problem is a difficulty in stopping thinking about things. When it gets to this level, we usually diagnose the problem as Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Often people who worry or over-analyse excessively have done so for a long time. Usually, however, the problem has hit a crisis point - such as insomnia - that has prompted them to seek help.
Worry and Generalised Anxiety Disorder
People who experience Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) often experience symptoms including fatigue, tension, irritability, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep (falling asleep/staying asleep/waking too early) and excessive, uncontrollable worry. There may also be other physical symptoms including sweating, nausea or diarrhea, and there has been a link established with GAD and irritable bowel syndrome. There are many ways in which people who excessively worry cope with their worry behaviour, which can roughly be divided into avoidant or over-compensating behaviours. Avoidant behaviours include using alcohol or drugs or even t.v. to fall asleep; suppressing thoughts; avoiding tasks that are likely to trigger worry. Over-compensating behaviours include keeping constantly distracted or occupied; controlling thoughts, reassurance seeking or checking for example asking a relative or searching the internet; some people tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the problem, in the hope that it will prepare them when they have to face the problem. What we know, however, is that these strategies rarely work (or only work for a short-period) for someone who is experiencing GAD, because the source of the worry frequently changes.
Treatment for worry and GAD includes learning to accept that our mind often thinks many thoughts, and learning to let our thoughts come and go. A particularly useful strategy is mindfulness (see here for more information) in conjunction with other strategies that a psychologist can help you with such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
Further resources to help with worry and GAD can be found on the Centre for Clinical Interventions module for worry.
If you continue to experience difficulties with worry, you may like to give Grove Psychology a call to make an appointment.