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The Anxious Worrying Personality Style

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Anxious worrying is one of several personality styles identified as a risk factor to developing a depressive disorder. The other personality styles, which have been described in previous articles are:

– Irritable
– Perfectionist
– Social avoidant
– Personal reserve
– Self-critical
– Self-focused
– Sensitivity to rejection.

Not all of them are considered to be risk factors for depression.

People with high levels of anxious worrying in their personality style are more likely to have a parent who suffers from anxiety, more likely to have demonstrated traits of behavior in inhibition and school refusal as a youngster, more likely to have DSM-IV Cluster C personality traits (such as rejection sensitivity, irritability and self-criticism) and score highly on measures of neuroticism, trait anxiety and worrying. In comparison to other presentations of non-melancholic depression, they are more likely to have developed the depressive disorder at an earlier age and suffer more frequent and lengthier depressive episodes. We suggest a strong genetic component to the anxious worrying personality style which, together with the irritable style, is underpinned by a temperament characterized by high levels of autonomic arousal. Such characteristics increase the risk to depression and, when challenged by a life stressor, amplify those anxiety features and shape the phenotypic picture of 'anxious depression'. People who have this type of personality style are more likely to report that they have 'always been a worrier'. They may be able to relate several incidents in their lives where periods of unchecked worry dominated their thinking for days on end. Anxious worriers are possibly more likely to report somatic symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches and gastrointestinal problems. Over time, they possibly would have developed a number of strategies to help them cope with their high levels of anxiety, some of which may only be effective in the short-term. Some people with predominant features of this personality style may actively seek reassurance while others may withdraw from their friends and family members and stew over their problems.

On interview, anxious worriers are more likely to report:

– That they have 'Always been a worrier'
– Several periods in their lives where they have worried or stewed over problems for hours or days at a time
– Somatic symptoms of anxiety such as muscle tension, headaches and gastrointestinal problems
– Possible history of prior strategies to help curb their anxiety and worries.

Cognitive and Behavioral Characteristics of the Anxious Worrier

The key feature of this personality style is the cognitive aspect of long-standing worry which worsens when depressed. Worry may focus on any aspect of their lifestyle or on current problems. Many with this personality style will describe periods of hours or days of worry. Underpinning these worries is usually a set of dysfunctional cognitive structures which serve to drive the content of their current concerns. Some of these dysfunctional cognitive schemas are:

– The world is a dangerous and unpredictable place
– No matter how hard I plan, things always go wrong
– It's a disaster …