Aug 22, 2017

Psychology Explains Why Some Older People Worry So Much

Have you ever caught yourself in a worry spiral? It’s different to regular worrying.

Regular worrying is being concerned about something, like if your partner is ok while they are sick with the flu.

A worry spiral is more like an avalanche, all the smaller worries build up on top of each other until they become an irrational worry that gives a person great anxiety.

Many older people struggle with worrying and anxiety – and are often reluctant to get help.

Objectively the person knows that what they fear may be unrealistic and probably highly unlikely, but it doesn’t stop them from worrying. Or from convincing themselves that their concerns could indeed be true.

People who are pathological worriers are highly attuned to threats, and more likely to find themselves trapped in a worry spiral when they sense one.

For older people, as their mental and physical health deteriorate, tend to worry more about what happens to them.

A recent review paper, published in the Biological Psychology, psychologists explain what tips worrying from normal into problematic, and and why it can be so difficult to stop once you get started.

Usually worrying has a purpose – to solve perceived problems of daily living, or an attempt to repair negative mood, or as a means to try and ensure that ‘bad’ things do not happen in the future.

It’s not a feeling that people enjoy, but worrying feels productive, rather than a waste of time, and helps people to take action.

In a twisted way, worrying is meant to be useful. And people in a worry spiral don’t have the same “follow through” as everyone else.

For most people, when the worrying feeling stops feeling useful they turn their attention to other things. But for those anxious worriers, who tend to have a kind of perfectionist approach, they feel compelled to work through every eventuality and solving every problem.

That is how they get stuck in a spiral. But, surprisingly, the way to break out of the cycle is actually quite simple – it all about making effort.

When the worrying doesn’t feel “useful” anymore, simply move on.  

Thinking about the idea of stopping worrying when you’ve had enough of it, rather than when the worrying is somehow ‘finished’ or ‘complete,’ could be beneficial,” wrote Christian Jarrett.

“Moving on” could be as simple as focussing on the moment, a mindfulness technique, so that other thought and worries do not bother you. Some people find it beneficial to meditate to let go of anxiety and stress. You can train yourself to see the worry spiral to coming and avoid it all together.

“In fact, earlier research has shown that merely learning about the cognitive and emotional factors that feed excessive worry can help some people.”

It’s impossible to stop yourself from worrying altogether, but ridding yourself of the spiral that people may find themselves in can make a big difference to how you approach your daily life.

Anxiety is a real mental health issue that many older people struggle with, if this sound like something you or someone you know is dealing with then it’s important to see help and support.

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