Monday, November 08, 2010

Getting to the bottom of why people worry

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), or chronic worrying, is the most common anxiety disorder and, in any one year, is thought to affect around 2.7% of the population. Two thought processes that are believed to underly GAD are intolerance of uncertainty and what psychologists call negative metacognitive beliefs - worry about worry. Intolerance of uncertainty is a predisposition to react negatively to an uncertain event or situation - to assume that the worst is going to happen. People who are intolerant of uncertainty assess ambiguous situations as being stressful, disturbing and unacceptable and show increased perceptions of threat in situations that are relatively harmless. Worrying about worrying can lead to unhelpful behaviour and ways of controlling one's thoughts that actually lead to more worry in the long-term. Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne studied 119 people in an attempt to investigate these issues further. Their study also looked into the effects of 'parentification' - a situation in which children end up looking after people who are supposed to be looking after them. The idea behind this was that these children are asked to carry out tasks that they are not really capable of which makes them less confident, and more anxious about, their ability to handle difficult situations in the future. The researchers found that intolerance of uncertainty and negative metacognitive beliefs were both associated with an increase in GAD symptoms. However, once the researchers had taken into account the effects of depression parentification was not associated with an increased propensity to worry.

Tan, Shary ... [et al] (2010) Metacognitive, cognitive and developmental predictors of generalised anxiety disorder symptoms Clinical Psychologist 14 (3), 84 - 89

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