People with anxiety disorders worry. They worry about getting sick, running out of money, losing control, becoming embarrassed, making mistakes, getting hurt, hurting someone else, forgetting to do something, and on and on. Anxious worries rarely happen, but sometimes they do.

People do get sick, run out of money, embarrass themselves, make mistakes, get hurt, hurt others, forget stuff, and so on.

The worries of those with anxiety are reality based. However, anxious people usually inflate the actual level of risk. For example, it is true that cold viruses often linger on surfaces after an infected person coughs, sneezes onto something. If you touch an infected surface and then rub your eyes or scratch your nose, it’s quite possible that you can get sick. However, you probably have touched zillions of things in your life without getting sick. The overall risk is pretty low.

When risk is exaggerated, people with anxiety worry and try to avoid activities that might involve what is feared. These strategies don’t work. In fact, in the case of avoiding germs, constant stress and worry can lead to a compromised immune system which actually increases the risk of getting sick.

A better way is to look at the evidence. Use logic and research to help reduce the stress of too much worry. If you find yourself sweating the small stuff ask yourself the following questions and check your answers by doing a bit of research.

  • Do I have direct evidence that confirms my fears?
  • Do I have any evidence that is contrary to my worries?
  • How many times in the past has what I am worried about happened to me?
  • Do other people in my situation have the same worries and fears?

After you have checked the evidence, take another look at what you are worried about. Re-calculate the risk. Be sure to take reasonable precautions and then live life. Embrace uncertainty.

Teddy bear photo available from Shutterstock.



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    Last reviewed: 7 Apr 2012

APA Reference
Smith, L. (2012). Exaggerating Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 31, 2015, from


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Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. are authors of many books, including Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies and Child Psychology & Development for Dummies.

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