According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or nearly 20% of the population in a given year.
While nearly everyone worries about bad things that could potentially happen, those who suffer from the excessive worry which is the hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder [GAD] tend to dwell on these “what-ifs” nearly nonstop, causing uncomfortable levels of anxiety, panic and even physical illness. Many people who worry excessively also seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, smoking, or using alcohol and drugs.
Recently, Penn State researchers studied a small group of people with GAD, with the goal of finding out how many of the things they worried about ever actually came to pass. In other words, they asked, is all that worry worth it?
For a 10-day period, the study participants recorded all of their worries, reviewed them every night, and noted how severe they were. After a month, they were asked how many of their worries had come true.
The results were that an overwhelming 91.4% of their “worry predictions” never became reality. In fact, the most common percentage of untrue worries per study participant was 100%.
On the positive side, challenging the participants with this objective proof of the pointlessness of all that worrying, when used as a part of treatment for GAD helped their excessive worry symptoms to improve significantly.