Of all species inhabiting the earth, humans have developed the most advanced mental faculties. These amazing mental faculties, on the one hand, have enabled us to dominate the world but on the other, these are the root cause of some very disturbing psychological problems.
Worrying is one of these disturbing psychological issues that are widespread among populations of every country and region of the globe. Worrying refers to the uncontrollable emotions and thoughts that result from a proactive cognitive risk analysis of future threats — both imaginary and real – to avoid their harmful consequences.
According to the World Economic Forum, globally around 275 million people are suffering from anxiety — worrying is one of the persistent symptoms of anxiety. With such ubiquity, worrying is affecting the mental health of every age group. But worrying can’t be classed as an independent psychological disorder as mental health professionals around the world consider it one of the primary symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Though worrying is not a proper mental health problem still it is one of the leading causes of poor mental health in the human population. Besides, persistent worrying can also lead to other physical and mental health complications. So, it is important to stop worrying especially about unrealistic threats and future events. There are several self-help tips and tricks for stopping worry but for managing chronic worrying, you need appropriate counselling and therapy.
Excessive Worrying about a Deadline
Worrying can be argued to have an adaptive value in our evolutionary history. As human minds can simulate future events so simulation of a potential threat and then formulation of an appropriate strategy was a survival tool for our ancestors.
In our times too, realistic worry can save us from future embarrassments and failures but excessive worrying about unrealistic future events can jeopardize our mental as well as physical health.
There may be a range of triggers that can initiate uncontrolled thoughts and negative emotions about a future event. Meeting deadlines is one of the triggers that initiate worrying in many individuals. Each of us may have a different deadline like paying a bill, completing an academic assignment, visiting a construction site, attending a meeting, preparing a business presentation, and so on. But all of these deadlines trigger the same mental response in the individuals and that is the anxiousness and apprehensions about getting the task done.
The anxiousness and apprehensions, if maintained within a healthy range, are desirable as these emotions motivate us to achieve our deadlines. But unfortunately, many of us end up worrying excessively. This excessive worrying about achieving deadlines not only restricts our ability to act in any meaningful way but also ruins our mental as well as physical health.
Excessively worrying or procrastinating about a deadline is exhibited by people who are already suffering from an anxiety disorder like GAD and this condition is driven by some physiological changes occurring in the mind of the affected individual.
The science behind Excessive Worrying
When we worry excessively then our body goes into fight or flight mode to tackle the hypothetical challenging situation like meeting a deadline. While preparing for fight or flight mode, our endocrine glands add large quantities of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to our bloodstream which ultimately reaches our brain.
These hormones are meant for preparing the body for challenging situations and they do so by sharpening our senses and making our reflexes faster. After the danger is averted — deadline is achieved – the parasympathetic part of our nervous system takes over that neutralize the effects of the hormones and thus we revert back to our calm position. But in individuals, who suffer from excessive worrying, the stress hormones live longer in the brain, and due to which they can’t revert back to calmness.
The longer presence of stress hormones in the brain makes the brain hyperactive to threats. In a hyperactive brain, the amygdala enlarges. Amygdala is a part of the brain that deals with emotions and mood. Whenever an individual feels threatened or challenged, the amygdala sends warning signals to the hypothalamus which then triggers a fight or flight response.
In an overanxious individual, the enlarged and hyperactive amygdala sends out false warning signals to the hypothalamus due to which the individual remain in fight or flight mode permanently.
Also, in a worrying individual, the connection between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex weakens. The pre-frontal cortex is a part of the brain that deals with analytical reasoning and logical response. Whenever the amygdala sends warning signals to the hypothalamus, the pre-frontal cortex intervenes and processes the signals. Then the pre-frontal cortex comes up with a logical solution for dealing with the unusual situation.
In an overanxious brain, the connection between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex is weak due to which the individual can’t deal with the situation in a logical manner.
Lastly, in a worrying individual, the hippocampus stores only negative memories. Hippocampus is a part of the brain that processes and stores long-term and contextual memory. When an individual worry excessively then the hippocampus shrinks and in consequence, its ability to process and store memories is also reduced. With its reduced processing and storing capacity, the hippocampus stores anxiety, and worry-related memories. So, the individual ends up having few memories and that too the negative ones.
All of these negative alterations in the brain are induced by worrying excessively for long periods. Once these alterations occur in the brain then the individual may need to seek professional help. Many mental health experts and counselors are available for helping such individuals through time-tested therapies and counseling sessions.
Harmful Health Impacts of Excessive Worrying
Excessive worrying, if not treated in time, will jeopardize the emotional health and psychological wellbeing of the affected individual. The affected person’s brain is wired to remain on the vigil for the imagined threats all the time and therefore loses its calm permanently.
This will ultimately lead to chronic anxiety disorders that require hospitalization, medication, counseling, and therapies. Even after the successful treatment, the symptoms may relapse when the individual faces extraordinary situations like meeting a deadline on short notice – that is important for a degree or career progression.
Besides, the affected individual is only left with negative emotions and memories. Excessive worry also disturbs the sleep cycle and may result in chronic insomnia.
In addition to these mental health impacts, worrying can also affect physical health. First of all, excessive worrying affects your breathing pattern. When you worry excessively, this means you are in a fight or flight mode. This mode induces hyperventilation. In hyperventilation, the lungs take in more oxygen quickly to transport it to body muscles. In consequence, you feel hyperventilation symptoms like faintness, dizziness, and tingling.
Next, the fight or flight mode increases your heart rate which is needed for pumping more blood to your body muscles. The extra blood brings more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Though this increase in heart rate is normal for shorter periods but long-term increase in the heart rate can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Also, the stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – affect the digestive system. Cortisol blocks digestion as digestion is a nonessential body process during fight or flight response. Adrenaline relaxes stomach muscles and reduces blood flow to the stomach. Resultantly, a patient with chronic worry can face digestion problems like nausea, diarrhea, and appetite loss.
Finally, prolonged worry can also impair normal immune functioning. Chronic worry diminishes the immune system’s ability to fight off infections and that’s why those who worry excessively get the common cold, flu, and other infections more frequently.
Worrying about a Deadline is not worth the Outcome
Keeping in view the above discussion, it is now crystal clear that worrying about a deadline is not worth the outcome. Excessive worrying only results in failure to achieve the deadlines. Moreover, it adversely affects our emotional and physical health.
But how you can tell whether your worrying pattern is at the extreme or it is in the healthy range as there is a fine line between normal and abnormal worrying. Following are some of the common symptoms of excessive worrying and if you exhibit a couple or more of them then you may be suffering from excessive worrying.
- Mental exhaustion and fatigue
- Increased heart rate
- Digestive issues like stomach pain
- Breath shortness
- Lack of concentration
- Inability to act
- No motivation
- Poor academic and work performance
Overcoming Excessive Worrying
If you are suffering from excessive worrying and want to overcome this precursor of anxiety then the following steps may help you overcome your excessive worrying.
Keep a Worry Log: The first method of overcoming excessive worry is to keep a worry log. Just take a pen and notebook before sleeping and jot down all the incidences of the day which induced worry. After writing the incidences, critically analyze them and ask a few questions like were your worries realistic? What would be the worst-case scenarios? How to devise a logical response to the challenge? These questions will help you lower your worries with time.
Meditate: Meditation is a mindfulness exercise that will help you focus your energy and thoughts on the present moment rather than worrying about future events. Just find a quiet place and sit there with closed eyes. Notice your thought pattern and take deep breaths. Just let your thoughts pass through without passing any judgments. Meditating in the morning and before sleeping will help your recover quickly.
Seek help from your family and friends: The best way to overcome your excessive worrying is to tell your worries to a family member or a trusted friend. Just call your friend for a walk or tea and open up to your friend. This will not only ease your negative feelings but will also treat your worrying problem.
Finally, you can also follow the following practical steps for overcoming your excessive worrying regarding achieving a deadline.
• First of all, always set a realistic deadline, and if someone else sets deadlines for you like your teacher or boss and he sets an unrealistic milestone then go straight to him and tell your reservations. It is always better to inform at the onset rather than ending up worrying continuously.
• After setting a deadline, divide it into smaller milestones and keep a to-do list on daily basis. Try to achieve smaller milestones rather than focusing on the deadline.
• If you are fed up with your tasks then take some time and walk away from your work for a while. After a short break, you will feel more energetic and motivated to take on your deadline.
• Always ask for help if you need it. It is better to ask for help rather than be overwhelmed by the workload.
• Finally, if you feel that you can’t achieve the deadline in the prescribed timeframe then ask for extend the timeframe.
If the above-mentioned tips and tricks are not helping then you must seek professional help. Usually, treating excessive worrying requires several counseling and therapy sessions. Several types of counseling and therapy types are recommended by mental health professionals for the treatment of excessive worrying.
Our experienced mental health professionals can help you overcome your excessive worrying. Our health experts will conduct counseling and therapy sessions keeping in view your past medication history if any. Hundreds of patients have benefited from our in-person and virtual consultations and counseling sessions and now it is your turn to leave your worries in the past.