ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside November / December 2009

Why We Worry

Chronic worrying stems from a craving for control. But the more we fret, the less our bodies are able to cope with stress



© IMAGES.COM/CORBIS

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.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Dinosaurs

Get Total Access to our Digital Anthology

1,200 Articles

Order Now - Just $39! >

X

Email this Article

X