Does Worrying About Worrying Lead to Generalized Anxiety?

Everybody has worried about something at one time or another. But individuals, who worry constantly, chronic worriers, may be at risk for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), according to a recent study led by Alexander M. Penney of the Psychology Department at Lakehead University in Canada. People who worry about situations and circumstances may have high levels of anxiety associated with the worry but never reach clinical thresholds for a diagnosis of GAD. However, when the worry is seen as uncontrollable, and the individual begins to worry about worrying, the risk for GAD increases.

Research has shown that people with GAD believe that their worrying is positive and negative. For instance, they perceive that worrying about future events can be beneficial and lead to productive strategies, therefore making it a positive and desirable trait. They also think that excessive worrying can be negative and lead to panic, obsessive worrying, and uncontrollable anxiety. Therefore, Penney and his colleagues sought to determine how positive and negative beliefs in chronic worriers influenced their risk for GAD. To extend existing research, Penney chose to enlist 230 college students for his study, rather than relying on clinical participants used in other studies.

Penney discovered that the students who worried about worrying, and believed that they could not control their worrying, were more likely to develop GAD than those who held only positive beliefs about worrying. The study also demonstrated that positive beliefs about worrying contributed to trait worrying but did not directly increase the risk for GAD. It was only when negative beliefs were present, regardless of trait worrying, that GAD became a risk for the students. In other words, the students who had high levels of trait worry, but were not concerned about the worry becoming uncontrollable, did not have increased risks for GAD. Therefore, worry itself, nor the belief that worrying was a positive attribute, did not appear to lead to GAD. Penney said, “It appears that within chronic high worriers, a subset of individuals strongly believe that worry is uncontrollable and dangerous, and these individuals are more likely to experience GAD symptoms.”

Penney, A. M., Mazmanian, D., Rudanycz, C. (2012). Comparing positive and  negative beliefs about worry in predicting generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027623

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  • Jenifer gosnell

    Jenifer gosnell

    April 26th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I can’t waste my life on this kind of stuff! I know that the people for whom this is a problem, then it is a REAL problem. But I for one guess I am much too laid abck to have ever let any of this affect me. What good is it worrying about things that are either going to be beyond your control or things that have not even happened yet, and that you may not even be sure ARE going to happe? The people with this sort of issue get so caught up in trying to control everything that honestly it ends up making their entire lives feel more like they are completely out of control. Whatever will be will be, and I am not always in charge of that.

  • martha glenn

    martha glenn

    April 26th, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    Well of course it does!
    Its like the Book of Genesis: worrying about worrying only begats more worrying!

  • Spence


    April 26th, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    How is it that some people can leave stuff alone and there are others who get fixated on stuff amd can’t let it go? It is so weird how we are all wired so totally differently that what causes one person toms of worry others are able to shrug it off. Kind of makes me wonder if those who don’t let it bother them are hard wired differently or if somewhere along the way they were taught better ways of coping and dealing with stress and anxiety.

  • BennetT


    April 27th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    We all have a tendency to worry from time to time. But when someone hyper concentrates on it of course it will consume their life and could potentially morph from something that is fairly common into something that could be considered disordered behavior.



    April 27th, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Worry about a problem and it will only increase.Take a negative outlook of your illness or anything and it will seem harder to get better.Its all in the mind,folks.

  • Ginna


    April 27th, 2012 at 4:43 PM

    I will be the first to admit that I am a worrier, but not to the point where it consumes my every waking thought. There are times that I have to make a real effort to turn it off but I can. I can’t imagine having to constantly deal with letting this take over my days and nights. Nothing is worth that kind of angst. There are so many ways to you can help to control this, meditation and yoga being just two things that always work for me. I am also likely to take a walk in the evening after work just to clear the thoughts from the work day and start in on my home time. It works for me.

  • Jeni


    April 28th, 2012 at 6:16 AM

    Doesn’t sound like GAD is anything to play around with
    You knwo there are people who make fun of the worriers
    But stop and think for just a second how much of a toll all of this constsnt worry must take on them physically and mentally
    Could be a recipe for a health disaster if not controlled

  • Holly


    May 2nd, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    The first comment on this thread made me slightly angry… I have been my own ctim of worrying excessively. I haven’t always been this way, believe me! I used to be happy, care free, chatty and generally fun to be around.but, after being bullied in my work place by my manager for 2 years and a string of bad relationships, I broke down. I almost lost my job and all my friends. I suffered with anxiety, depression and the lowest self esteem I have ever encounterd. A year on and I am still dealing with it. To anyone that is reading this article for help, because they are too suffering, you can and will get through this. Wether you have a good group of friends or not. It takes time and for me a lot of self help reading… I’m finally beginning to love myself again after being put down so much. Sorry to rant, but I was so ignorant towards mental health issues before all this…but now, I send anyone who is going through the same situation stregnth and love, you’ll be ok x

  • Donna Iverson

    Donna Iverson

    May 17th, 2012 at 5:08 AM

    I appreciate this blog. It is difficult to find solid information on Generalized Anxiety Disorder or to have it taken seriously. It is an invisible disorder and sufferers often cover up the suffering they feel

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