Fast Exit

November 28, 2023 Nov 28, 2023 8 min read

Unpacking the Anatomy of Worry: Causes, Symptoms, and Strategies


  • Trauma and a childhood of abuse and neglect can lead to constant worrying and an intolerance of uncertainty.
  • Letting go of the unrealistic demands of perfection and total control can help you stop worrying so much.
  • Become aware of what triggers your worrying and reach out to others to determine realistic worry from imagined worry.
  • Understand your need to please everyone and fear of success as symptoms you can leave behind.
  • Participate in new enjoyable and productive activities to shift your attention to the present.

Understanding Chronic Worry

Worrying is something most people do some of the time. The good side of worrying is that it makes us pay attention, concentrate, and look at the different sides of a situation or issue.


It helps us avoid making mistakes or overlooking things that can make life go more smoothly. Worrying is a normal part of life and shows we care about what happens not only to ourselves but to others and to the world.


But constant or frequent worry can distract us from living well and from enjoying life. Repetitive negative thoughts, expecting things to go wrong, and fearing the worst all the time wear you down.


Chronic worry, especially about things that haven’t happened, traps us in a cycle that can lead to depression and severe anxiety. It has a negative impact on our health and our resistance to illness. Constant worry can even shorten our lives.



Let’s stay in touch

We’d like to be able to share more of our resources and support with you.

Trauma and constant worry

Trauma sets the stage for this kind of constant worry. It may be conscious or subconscious. It could be a general feeling of dread that you can’t put into words. You are just always expecting something to go wrong and for it to be your fault.

Constant Worry as a Response to Child Abuse

Abused children blame themselves because they cannot understand what is happening in the minds of their caretakers. The unpredictability of their caretakers causes confusion and can be paralyzing.


Growing up to be a constant worrier is a logical outcome, with any uncertainty feeling like a threat. It becomes a great challenge to trust one’s own judgment and make decisions on one’s own.


A traumatized person can feel the need for constant reassurance from others and, even then, still find it very difficult to make decisions, take action, and accept what might happen.


Traumatized and chronically abused children are also always on the alert. They never know when something they do might trigger abuse. Constantly watching and waiting for the next painful experience, they cannot relax and are constantly in some state of worry.


Symptoms of constant worry

1. Procrastination

The symptoms of constant worry include procrastination, postponing things endlessly to avoid doing anything wrong, or facing rejection, criticism, or an attack.

A traumatized person is always trying to prevent a repeat of traumatic events. But by not managing worry, the trauma is running your life and interfering with your freedom.


2. Desperate Need for Control

A chaotic, disorganized childhood can create a desperate need for control. Any uncertainty or mixed feelings, which are unavoidable in life, can trigger intense worrying and non-stop rehearsals of things in one’s mind.


Instead of taking some time to think things through calmly, the traumatized person will feel an urgent need to find a solution and may feel overly responsible for what happens. This can cause nervousness and panic as the need to take action and the fear of taking the wrong action crash into each other.

Instead of taking some time to think things through calmly, the traumatized person will feel an urgent need to find a solution and may feel overly responsible for what happens. This can cause nervousness and panic as the need to take action and the fear of taking the wrong action crash into each other.


3. Need to feel liked

Aside from specific worries about school, work, family, and finances, traumatized people question whether they are likable. This kind of worry makes it hard to get out in the world to meet people and to feel comfortable attending social occasions. In reality, no one is expecting the perfection that you are demanding of yourself.


4. Feeling insecure when things go well

Feeling calm and happy can itself feel worrisome to people who have been living with trauma. There is a fear that it cannot last, especially if you have been chronically abused and mistreated. If you haven’t felt good for an extended period of time, it can feel unfamiliar and hard to trust.


There are always hard times for everyone but believe that you don’t have to feel unsettled, guilty, or threatened by feeling free of negative thoughts or feelings.


In fact, trauma and worrying disconnect you from present reality. Try to live in the present and not let the past cast a constant shadow over your life.


If you tend to worry all the time, it is possible for you to stop. You can live a much more relaxed and happy life and develop the confidence to face the future without so much anxiety.


How to get control over worrying so much

Statistics from a Cornell University study show that as many as 85 percent of the things people worry about do not happen. As common as the tendency to worry is, it is very painful to be one of the people who worries all the time.


But this statistic shows how unrealistic most of our worries are. That is why it can help to speak to people you trust about your worries to test the reality of your fears and anxiety.


Here are some suggestions to help you stop worrying too much:

  1. Create a support circle of family, friends, and a therapist to discuss your concerns
  2. Find out if you are making up worst-case scenarios that most likely will never happen. Check with others to see whether your fears have any basis in reality and what actions you might take if they do.
  3. Psychologists suggest that it can help to set aside a certain amount of time to worry, and then put these negative thoughts out of your mind.
  4. Experiment with writing down positive or neutral outcomes that you wish for.
  5. Imagine a happier future with things going well.
  6. Train your mind to do the opposite of worrying.
  7. Treat yourself to relaxing activities – exercise, yoga, tai chi, and massage.
  8. Do a daily meditation practice to calm your mind and empty yourself of worrying thoughts.

This is what the famous American writer and humorist Mark Twain said towards the end of his life: “I am an old man and have had many troubles, most of which never happened.” We often forget how healing humour can be and the perspective it gives us about our worries. You don’t have to create negative things in your mind to add to the traumatic things that happened to you in the past.


Seven More Steps to Reduce Worry

  1. Determine your “worry profile” and change your pattern of worry Reflect on what triggers cause worrying for you. Look at repeated patterns in what you worry about.
  2. Identify productive and unproductive worries. Ask yourself which worries are realistic and help you figure out what action to take. Try to let go of unproductive worry about things that you cannot control.
  3. Take control of time and eliminate the sense of urgency that keeps you anxious. Recognize that there is no emergency and that, if necessary, you can take action at a time that is convenient for you.
  4. Focus on new opportunities instead of what happened in the past
    Doing new things will shift your mind to the present and help you let go of past traumatic events that hold you back.
  5. Embrace uncertainties instead of reaching for perfection.

  6. It can feel difficult to embrace uncertainty, but it is possible. Perfection is unattainable and everyone makes mistakes. You can start by trying with smaller, less intimidating situations first. Gradually facing and adapting to uncertainty in these smaller contexts can build your confidence and resilience for dealing with larger uncertainties in life.

  7. Stop the most common safety behaviours that you take to try to make things better but actually make things worse.

Worrying and obsessing about what might happen does not help make things better. Try to stop avoiding making decisions or taking action, and accept that you cannot control everything and are not responsible for everything that might go wrong. Over time, you can feel more free to make the best decisions you can with the resources at hand and let go of the fantasy of perfection.


Trauma and deprivation or abuse in childhood can make it hard for you to tolerate uncertainty. Becoming more aware of what triggers your worries can reduce chronic worrying. You can practice to be more realistic with smaller issues and, step-by-step, accept that you cannot control everything. Creating a support system, testing reality against your worries, participating in relaxing activities like meditation, and retraining your mind will all help you become calmer and more confident.  Letting go of the idea of perfection and focusing on new opportunities can help you worry less and enjoy life more.


You can create a better future when you put your attention on what you want to happen and not on what you fear.


Author Bio: Susan Ellis studied psychology and anthropology at Barnard College and the University of Chicago. She has worked in many aspects of publishing, including editing and marketing scholarly journals, magazines, and books on psychology and psychoanalysis.


Getting worry under control

This journal is a practical guide to reducing worry and gaining agency over your concerns. Set aside a daily moment for honest reflections and consistently record your thoughts and feelings. This process helps you understand worries, identify patterns and create personalized strategies for worry reduction. Consistent use empowers you to challenge irrational thoughts and build resilience. It is a valuable downloadable resource for those seeking mental well-being. Download your guide to a calmer, more balanced life today.

Start your 14 day free trial today

We’d like to be able to share more of our resources and support with you.

Get started

Read more like this