It’s natural to worry about things that are important in your life. But if you find you are worrying about every little thing, this can be a problem.
When is it excessive worry?
Worry is to feel anxious about things — to think in a negative way about something that may or will happen in the future.
It’s common to worry about stressful situations, such as taking an exam or a job interview. This worry is generally short-lived and can be regarded as problem solving for a new or challenging situation. These feelings can drive us to achieve more and perform better.
But if feelings of worry interfere with your daily life and seem to be persistent (there all the time), or are excessive for the situation, or cause you distress, then this is excessive worry and you may have anxiety.
Excessive worry is one of the main symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder. A person with generalised anxiety disorder will have worries relating to several different areas of their life — for example, finances, health, relationships and work.
What signs or symptoms are related to excessive worry?
People who experience excessive worry and anxiety may also have physical and mental effects, such as:
Some people with generalised anxiety disorder worry about their worrying and some use avoidance to limit situations which may trigger worrying.
What causes excessive worry?
As mentioned, excessive worry is a key symptom of generalised anxiety disorder, and a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors are thought to contribute to that disorder. These include a family history of anxiety, stressful life events, having certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, and having brain functioning changes.
Women are more likely to develop generalised anxiety disorder than men.
When should I see my doctor?
If worrying is affecting you every day, if it is leaving you anxious about different things or causing you to avoid activities, or you are finding it hard to stop worrying, then you should seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional.
If you find it difficult to reach out to your doctor, here are some tips for talking to your doctor about mental health.
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.
Is there any treatment for excessive worry?
Treatments are not generally aimed at excessive worry specifically, but usually at anxiety. The treatments that are used for generalised anxiety disorder are psychoeducation (learning about the problem), psychotherapy (for example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) including problem solving therapy), and sometimes medications.
Your doctor may suggest you see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. If you are referred by your doctor, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate and you may qualify for several visits under a mental health care plan.
Medications are usually recommended if a person is experiencing intense worry but are generally only used for a short period.
In addition to these treatments, there are also self-help techniques to help you cope with excessive worry and anxiety.
Self-help for excessive worry
Self-help strategies that can be helpful in managing excessive worry include:
- postpone your worry
- structured problem solving
- lifestyle changes
Mindfulness is a mental state where you are focussed on the present, not the past or future. It shifts your attention from thinking (about problems) to focussing on sensing and observing.
Postpone your worry
If you are finding that worrying is impacting your life, you can learn to postpone your worries. Set a regular time and a place for worrying. Then whenever a worry pops into your head, note it down and postpone it until the specific worry time. At the worry time, review your list of worries. If some of them now seem no longer relevant, then don’t spend any time on them. It will give you a sense of control.
Structured problem solving
Structured problem solving is a type of CBT that focuses on constructively identifying a problem, working up some potential solutions and then evaluating the solutions to create a flexible plan. This is in contrast to worrying, which is essentially a negative process that doesn’t produce any solutions.
Structured problem solving is best taught by a doctor or psychologist.
A healthy lifestyle can help to reduce stress and worry. Good sleep, eating a healthy diet, making sure you get enough physical activity and minimising your alcohol consumption are all things that can help reduce worry and anxiety.
Another technique that may help when you are worrying, is to ask yourself these questions:
- Is my worry reasonable? Is it likely to happen?
- Is my worry helpful? Is it likely to help the situation?
- Could I be doing something else instead? — Something more helpful
Resources and support
If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:
- MindSpot Clinic (anyone suffering from anxiety or depression) — call 1800 61 44 34.
- beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
- Black Dog Institute (people affected by depression and extreme mood swings) — online help.
- Lifeline (anyone experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: February 2022