Most of Your Worries Are Probably Irrational

L.S. LaFreniere and M.G. Newman, Exposing Worry’s Deceit: Percentage of Untrue Worries in Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment, Behavior Therapy,

So I decided to change it up a little bit today, and read an article about what is probably my truest nemesis: worrying. This article has been making the rounds on Twitter over the last few days, so I rearranged some stuff to fit it into my Daily Read schedule for today.

The authors undertook a study in which people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) recorded their worries and then reported on whether or not they came true in a therapeutic device called a Worry Outcome Journal (WOJ). Their hypothesis? At least 75% of the worries these people experience will not come true, and the more this happens, the better the persons therapeutic treatment outcome will be.

The participants in this study were 29 undergraduates with GAD, 26 of whom were women and over 75% of whom were white. The authors do note that this means that there will be “restricted generalizability” of study results, given that the participants were “largely white, female, young adult undergraduate students.”

(I’m glad they said that, because seriously? And note that I am a white female too, albeit not so young anymore.)

The participants were to write their worries in their WOJ when prompted by text messages. As a rationale for doing this they were told that, by paying attention to the negative impacts of their worries on their life and seeing that the worries do not, for the most part come true, they will “recognize the uselessness of worrying and begin to engage in it less.” This message aligned with the goal of the study to train participants in “realistic prediction formation.” They were also told that a “worry” is a “repetitive anxious thought that an event in the future will turn out badly” and that it must “forecast a negative outcome.”

According to the results, these kids worry a lot, and their worries take up a lot of their thinking time during the day. However, the results also showed that, on average across all participants, over 90% of worries did not come true, and the percentage per participant ranged from 53% untrue to 100% untrue.

Well, I personally found this to be quite helpful. I am an obsessive worrier, although as I have gotten older, gotten to know myself and the world better, and started taking anti-anxiety medication, I worry much less than I used to. I have also come to recognize worries for what they are — my brain being too creative for its own good, in order to prepare me for all the scenarios, and what I am imagining likely is not or will not be the actual case.

Although I am skeptical that the results of this study can be broadly applicable to people across various demographics (especially people who are neither white nor privileged), I do agree with the following concluding statements made by the authors:

  • Bottom line #1 = “Clinicians may find the figures valuable in therapy during psychoeducation and cognitive restructuring of the worry’s validity.”
  • Bottom line #2 = “Therapists should use techniques to draw client attention to evidence that their worries are unrealistic, unlikely, and unhelpful. … As clients realize their long-held beliefs may be flawed, expectancy for belief-changing therapy should increase.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s