Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Excessive worry

6-minute read

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.

People with generalised anxiety disorder may have other mental health conditions, such as depression or social anxiety disorder, and they may misuse alcohol or drugs.

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:

  • mindfulness
  • postpone your worry
  • structured problem solving
  • lifestyle changes

Mindfulness

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.

Lifestyle changes

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


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a form of anxiety that occurs in certain social situations (e.g. public speaking, meeting new people) which can lead to people avoiding those social situations. Find out more about SAD and treatment options

Read more on Mental Health Online website

Social anxiety disorder - MyDr.com.au

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) causes people to feel anxious at the prospect of everyday social interactions and causes symptoms such as trembling and sweating.

Read more on myDr website

About the Social Anxiety Online Program

The Social Anxiety Disorder Program helps people learn about social anxiety and implement skills and strategies to manage symptoms and improve overall wellbeing

Read more on Mental Health Online website

About the GAD Online Program

The Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) program helps people understand the nature of anxiety and worry and teaches skills and strategies to help manage symptoms and improve overall wellbeing

Read more on Mental Health Online website

Treatments for Anxiety Disorders - Black Dog Institute

Left untreated, anxiety can last for a long time. There are a range of effective treatments for anxiety, and you can get better.

Read more on Black Dog Institute website

Evidence-Based Online CBT for Anxiety and Depression | THIS WAY UP

Learn how to use internet-delivered cognitive-behavioural programs as part of your routine clinical practice when treating anxiety and depressive disorders.

Read more on This Way Up website

Psychological treatments for anxiety - Beyond Blue

There are several different types of psychological treatments for anxiety, including cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and behaviour therapy

Read more on Beyond Blue website

Online Programs for Mixed Anxiety and Depression | THIS WAY UP

Learn practical CBT and mindfulness strategies for managing symptoms of mixed anxiety and depression with our clinically-proven online treatment programs.

Read more on This Way Up website

Cognitive behavioural therapy | Professional help | ReachOut Australia

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy used to address different kinds of mental health issues.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

moodgym - Online self-help for depression and anxiety

moodgym is an interactive self-help program that provides cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) training to help users prevent and cope with depression and anxiety.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo