The young girl wanted to unburden herself about her problem. She told her doctor that she worried excessively and that she felt overwhelmed by these thoughts. One memory that she described to Douglas Mennin, director of the Yale Anxiety and Mood Services at Yale University, was particularly telling. Her grandmother had shared intense feelings about the recent passing of a good friend. As the young girl listened, her mind wandered to thoughts of her grandmother dying. The worry soon spiraled into concerns about the girl’s own death. She became so disturbed, she cut short her visit to her grandmother and ran home.
Psychologists believe that worry, defined as a person’s negative thoughts about a future event, evolved as a constructive problem-solving behavior. But excessive fretting—as happened with the girl—does more harm than good. Chronic worriers operate under the misperception that their overthinking and attempts at controlling every situation allow them to problem-solve and plan for the future. Instead their thought pattern hinders cognitive processing and also causes overstimulation of emotion- and fear-processing areas in the brain. The hypervigilance that is the result can lead to cardiovascular problems, ultimately rendering the body unable to cope properly with stress.