How people can learn to stop worrying

December 20, 2007

We all worry from time to time, but some people find it particularly hard to stop themselves from worrying about lots of different things. People whose lives are seriously affected by worrying can be helped to change their way of thinking, which reduces the uncontrollability of worry.

This is the finding of a study presented on Thursday 13 December 2007, to the Annual Conference of the Division of Clinical Psychology at the Congress Centre, London, by Dr Collette Hirsch’s research group from King’s College London.

Dr Hirsch, together with colleagues from the King’s College London and the University of California, studied a group of people who were chronic worriers.

About half had problems so severe that they would have met diagnosis for the psychological condition Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which causes significant distress. People with this problem typically have their attention taken up by worry-related information more than positive information. The research carried out at King’s College London investigated whether what we focus our attention on influences our ability to stop worrying.

People in the attention changing condition were given practice in attending to positive (not worry-related) information when both positive and worry-related information were presented at the same time. Other participants completed a control condition where their attention was not modified. People in the positive attention group worried less during a subsequent task, indicating that attention is important in keeping worry going and providing a potential new way to help reduce worry.

Dr Hirsch says: ‘These findings support the growing body of evidence that helping direct their attention away from troubling material is the key to helping people whose lives are seriously affected by worrying. We think this work has the potential to help people who suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder.’

Source: The British Psychological Society

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