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Exaggerating Risk

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.

Exaggerating Risk

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2012). Exaggerating Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Apr 2012
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