Strategies to Stop Worrying
I'm a little anxious about admitting this, but here goes: I'm a world-class worrier. Everything from cellulite to salmonella has me in a sweat. If family or friends are flying, I can't relax until the plane lands. The waiting room in a doctor's office? Anxiety Central. And don't even get me started on the economy. I worry I'll lose my job, or my husband will lose his, and our depleted 401(k) gives me nightmares.
There's a psychological label for this kind of constant fretting: generalized anxiety disorder. Women are diagnosed with it more often than men, says psychologist Thomas Borkovec, PhD, a professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University and a leading authority in the field. "People with GAD spend anywhere from five percent of their time to more than half the day working out solutions to problems that may or may not exist," he says. That's me!
But even though my level of worry sometimes borders on the pathological, I am definitely not alone. "I sometimes joke that the disorder is misnamed," Dr. Borkovec says. "It should be called severe normality, because we all experience it sometime or other."
Not only am I not unique, I'm part of a stressed-out sisterhood. As women, we're more likely than men to worry that something bad that happened in the past might happen again in the future, according to a 2007 study led by psychologist Kristin Hansen Lagattuta, PhD, at the University of California, Davis. That's me, for sure. I remember getting lost in the pitch-dark while driving to a friend's house and becoming frantic as I went miles out of the way. Now I'm nervous each time we make plans to meet at her home. I know the route well at this point, yet I still take anxiety along for the ride.
Women do report higher levels of worry than men, Dr. Borkovec says -- though it could just be that the guys aren't admitting it. "We take these gender differences with a grain of salt because women tend to be more honest in expressing their feelings than men are." Meanwhile, it turns out that some of us are born with an inclination to wring our hands. A 2007 Yale University study identified a gene mutation that can predict a tendency to ruminate. It was instantly dubbed "the worry gene."