Excessive worry can damage relationships

Everybody worries, but excessive fretting can put your relationships at risk, according to a psychology professor at Case Western Reserve University.

People who worry so obsessively that it interferes with their daily lives suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), says Case Western Reserve psychology professor Amy Przeworski.

Individuals with GAD frequently put relationships with family, friends or coworkers at the top of their lists of worries, but the negative methods they use to cope with their concerns—from over-nurturing to extreme detachment—may be destructive.

For instance, a person may express worry about someone else’s health or safety by intrusive expressions of concern-think of the parent or spouse who calls every five minutes for an update on what’s happening. Another person may express the same worry by criticizing behaviors they believe to be careless or reckless.

Przeworski and colleagues at Penn State University conducted two studies in which they observed four distinct interactive styles among people with GAD—intrusive, cold, nonassertive and exploitable. Both studies supported the presence of these four styles and their significant role in how people with GAD manifest their worries.

“The worry may be similar, but the impact of the worry on their interpersonal relationships would be extremely different,” Przeworksi says. “This suggests interpersonal problems and worry may be intertwined.”

She suggests that therapies to treat GAD should target both the worry and related interpersonal problems.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

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