Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar at all: You’re supposed to meet a friend for coffee at one, let’s say. It’s now 1:10 and she’s not there, and she hasn’t answered your text, either. You know, objectively, that she’s probably just stuck on the subway or something, but you still can’t help running through all the other possibilities: She’s gotten into some terrible accident. She’s been abducted. She choked on a piece of food in her apartment and no one’s found her yet. As the minutes tick by, you find yourself increasingly convinced that your friend has stumbled into a fate much more sinister than a train delay.

If you’ve been there before, you may be a pathological worrier: someone more highly attuned to threats, and more likely to find yourself trapped in a worry spiral when you sense one. In a new review paper in the journal Biological Psychology and highlighted by Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest, psychologists explain what tips worrying from normal into problematic, and why it can be so difficult to stop once you get started.

“For most people, worrying has a purpose,” the study authors wrote, “whether it be to solve perceived problems of daily living, as an attempt to repair negative mood, or as a means to try and ensure that ‘bad’ things do not happen or to avoid future catastrophes.” That’s not to say that anyone really enjoys the process — just that it can feel like a productive use of time, rather than a waste of it.

– Cari Romm

Read more: A New Study Explains the Psychology of the Worry Spiral

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