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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