Is there a reason why we worry more than others? Find out what new research has revealed about why people with general anxiety worry so much more.
Worrying can be a normal part of life, but for some, it is a huge problem they can’t just shake off.
One such group is people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). They worry so much that they can barely ever feel happy or excited about anything.
They constantly worry about things that might happen, things that have already happened, and things that are happening right now. This makes it hard for them to enjoy life.
Now, two psychology researchers from The Pennsylvania State University have found out why these people worry so much more than others (Baik & Newman, 2023).
Why Do We Worry More Under Anxiety?
Baik and Newman proposed that the Contrast Avoidance Model (CAM) can explain why we worry. They say people with GAD are highly sensitive to sharp up-shifts in negative emotions. So, they may use worry to maintain a steady negative emotional state and avoid these shifts.
We may understand it as follows:
The generally anxious people think if they let themselves be happy, they will have to “fall from a greater height” when some negative thing happens in their environment. So, they use worry to remain in a negative mood and make sure the “fall is not too steep” when a negative thing happens.
The findings of this study suggest that the CAM is a valid theory of worry, and can provide an insight into therapy options to help us cope with emotional ups and downs.
This is how people with GAD cope with their fear of negative emotions: by avoiding them instead of facing them.
- They worry about past things so that they can learn from their mistakes.
- They worry about things that are happening in the present so they can feel like they are in control.
- They worry about the future, that everything might go wrong, so they are prepared for the worst.
How Does Worry Manage Our Emotions?
Existing studies suggest that worry increases negative emotions in us, both with and without an anxiety disorder.
Some people worry prior to exposure to a negative outcome. They seem to think that if they worry beforehand, they can avoid a sudden surge in negative emotions when they actually face it.
It is already known that people with GAD are more sensitive to feeling emotionally vulnerable to unexpected negative events (Newman & Llera, 2011).
What this new study by Baik and Newman found is that those with GAD may use worrying as a coping mechanism to handle negative events.
They learn the habit of worrying to protect themselves against sudden negative emotional contrasts. These people worry to avoid emotional ups and downs in daily life.
Like worry, rumination (or overthinking) involves repetitive thoughts about negative outcomes.
Both rumination and worry are thought to increase and sustain negative emotions, and both can cause as well as increase symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
What Is The Contrast Avoidance Model (CAM)?
The Contrast Avoidance Model (CAM) of Worry is a theory that suggests that people who worry, particularly those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), are more sensitive to sharp upward shifts in negative emotions.
To avoid facing these shifts, they use worry to maintain a state of sustained negative emotion.
Worrying is their strategy to prevent a sudden increase in negative emotions or a drop in positive ones after adverse events.
The CAM theory says that people with GAD are more sensitive to negative emotional contrasts than people without GAD. That is, they are more likely to feel sad, anxious, or angry.
They are also more likely to feel these emotions more intensely.
The CAM suggests that people who worry too much are using their worry to sustain a state of negative emotion. This constant worrying can help them blunt the effects of negative emotional contrast.
Worry is a way for people with GAD to cope with their fear of negative emotions. It helps them to feel like they are in control and prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“Those who worried immediately prior to negative exposure avoided a sharp increase in negative emotion because they were already in a negative state due to worrying.”– Seung Yeon Baik & Michelle G. Newman
The CAM theory says that worry affects both negative and positive moods at the same time.
While it’s clear that worry increases negative emotions, evidence also suggests that worry can reduce coexisting positive emotions.
The GAD people tend to quickly return to a negative emotional state via worry after experiencing positive emotions. However, excessive worry often makes it hard for them to function normally in their daily lives.
How Can We Stop Worrying?
If you are struggling to stop your excessive worrying, here are a few helpful tips:
- Identify your worries. It is the starting point. Ask yourself, “What am I worrying about?” and then write down your worry points.
- Challenge your worries. First, assure yourself that you don’t have to believe all that your thoughts tell you. Then ask yourself: Are my worries realistic? What is the likelihood of this happening? What are some other ways to look at it? Are there things I can do to reduce the risk of the things I am worrying about?
- Focus on the present moment. When you find yourself worrying about the future, bring your attention back to the present moment. Focus on your breath or on something you can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Learn to practice mindfulness – it is easy.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help to calm your mind and body and reduce worry.
- Talk to someone you trust. Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist can help you to feel less alone and to get support.
Why do you worry so much about someone?
We may worry about others for a variety of reasons:
Emotional Attachment: We often worry about others we are emotionally attached to, such as family members, friends, or romantic partners. This is because we care about these people and their well-being.
Empathy: Empathy allows us to understand and share the feelings of others. If someone we care about is going through a difficult time, we might worry about them out of our empathetic feelings.
Responsibility: Sometimes, people worry about others because they feel a sense of responsibility towards them. This can be particularly true for parents, caregivers, or those in leadership roles.
Anxiety: Certain people may be more prone to worry because of their anxious nature. This can lead them to worry excessively about others, even when there might not be a substantial reason to do so.
Love: Love often leads to worry. When you love someone, their happiness and well-being become important to you, and any threat to those can cause you to worry.
What is negative emotional contrast?
Negative emotional contrast is when someone experiences a sharp increase in negative emotion after a period of feeling positive emotion.
For example, Jack feels happy and excited about going on vacation. But then he gets into a car accident on the way to the airport. The car accident is a negative emotional contrast to the positive emotion Jack was feeling before.
Reference: Baik, S. Y., & Newman, M. G. (2023). The transdiagnostic use of worry and rumination to avoid negative emotional contrasts following negative events: A momentary assessment study. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 95, 102679.
Worry is repetitively thinking about negative things that could happen in the future. Worrying can sometimes be a helpful coping mechanism.
It can be a cognitive avoidance response to perceived future threats. When people worry, they are trying to avoid thinking about or dealing with the negative emotions that they link to these threats.
For example, someone who worries about getting a bad grade on a test may be trying to avoid the negative emotions of disappointment, shame, or embarrassment.
But worrying is a problem when it is excessive or interferes with daily life.
If you find that worry is interfering with your life, talk to a therapist or counselor. They can help you understand and manage it.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.
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