25

Is there a single word for someone who gets worried and anxious very fast, usually over silly things? An adjective that can be used to fill in the blank in:

My mother is very _______

I want to tell my mother about my flight tonight, but, you know, she is __________ and will lose her sleep worrying over my safety.

  • 18
    Is there a reason why anxious itself doesn't work for you? When used without qualification (just anxious in general, not anxious about or for or because of anything) I would take it to mean what you describe. – 1006a Jan 29 '17 at 19:34
  • I imagine you're talking about a character like the "Don't Panic" guy from the show Dad's Army – Brad Thomas Jan 30 '17 at 19:15
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    "My mother is a worrier", "Don't mention it to her, she's a worrier", ... common usage in UK at least. – nigel222 Jan 31 '17 at 11:13
  • @nigel222 We say that in the US too. Also "she's a worrywart." – MissMonicaE Jan 31 '17 at 14:26

11 Answers 11

51

This is a noun, but such a person is a worrywart. It is frequently used to describe loved ones who are overly concerned about your well being. It fits perfectly into your example sentences.

My mother is a worrywart.

I want to tell my mother about my flight tonight, but, you know, she is a worrywart and will lose sleep worrying over my safety.

This word is very informal, but not derisive. It typically implies some measure of affection.

The expression is used mainly in American English.

Worry wart:

1956, from comic strip "Out Our Way" by U.S. cartoonist J.R. Williams (1888-1957). According to those familiar with the strip, Worry Wart was the name of a character who caused others to worry, which is the inverse of the current colloquial meaning.

(Etymonline)

29

This state of mind has a rich tradition in Victorian times, where upper-class females had little to spend their time on. An entirely appropriate term for it would be high-strung.

Having an extremely nervous or sensitive temperament.
"I'm not blaming my kid, but she's very high-strung."

Reference:
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/high-strung

  • 2
    This phrase has the least baggage as far as associations, while still expressing the meaning. – bright-star Jan 29 '17 at 18:45
  • This is what I'd use. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 30 '17 at 10:49
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    +1, but I've always heard "highly strung" rather than "high strung". google Ngrams shows both in use, possibly it's a regional variation. – AndyT Jan 30 '17 at 12:04
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    @AndyT I also suspect it's regional. I've never head "highly", always "high". Northeast US – Daenyth Jan 31 '17 at 13:58
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    "High[ly] strung" sounds more like she gets upset easily, like she might cry or snap at you with little provocation, than like she's unreasonably worried. – MissMonicaE Jan 31 '17 at 14:28
22

'Neurotic' is another word that would fit. Like 'paranoid' it has, or had, a strict mental health definition, and a looser idiomatic one, implying a tendency to worry excessively over little things.

Edit: Interestingly there is more emphasis on the medical aspect in the Br Eng definition in the Cambridge:

Br: behaving strangely or in an anxious (= worried and nervous) way, often >because you have a mental illness

US: related to or having unreasonable anxiety or unusual behavior

  • Good word choice - why not add a dictionary definition to support your answer? – EleventhDoctor Jan 31 '17 at 10:30
  • This was my first thought as well. – GeoffAtkins Jan 31 '17 at 15:36
  • @EleventhDoctor Done! – peterG Jan 31 '17 at 21:40
  • But please indicate which dictionary/ies you have quoted from - preferably using a web link. – TrevorD Jan 31 '17 at 23:46
13

Not a single word, of course, but you could say your mother is a nervous Nellie.

From Merriam-Webster:

: a timid or worrisome person

...

My sister is a real nervous Nellie when it comes to flying.

Or, in your example sentence:

I want to tell my mother about my flight tonight, but, you know, she is a nervous Nellie and will lose sleep worrying over my safety.

  • I've heard negative Nellie more than I've heard nervous Nellie. – ringo Jan 31 '17 at 8:13
  • @ringo If this answer on Quora is correct, 'Negative Nellie' is a more recent term, having been popularized by US President Johnson ca. 1966. Unrelated, but perhaps interesting, a few years later we have US Vice President Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism" (written by White House speechwriter William Safire). – Spehro Pefhany Jan 31 '17 at 12:37
12

Over apprehensive is a term you can use in the context you are describing:

  • Anxious or fearful that something bad or unpleasant will happen:
    • he felt apprehensive about going home’
  • My mother is over apprehensive.

(ODO)

  • 4
    I've only heard overly apprehensive. – patrick Jan 30 '17 at 18:33
12

Paranoid should work here.

Unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful (Oxford)

I hope I'm correct in assuming that you want a word which describes the nature of someone being worried easily, not a word to describe their current state of worry.

As in:

I hope my mother doesn't find out how risky this is, she's paranoid. = (She's not worried right now, but she will be if she learns of this; that's her nature.)

EDIT: As is common knowledge, I hope, the word paranoid refers to a mental disorder in its primary sense. However, its usage in the metaphorical sense is quite common, and doesn't necessarily imply that you think she suffers from this illness. (English is littered with metaphorical usages of medical conditions, with varying degrees of social acceptance: "Are you blind?" "Are you deaf?" "Are you insane?").

The more noteworthy thing here is what @Peter points out in the comments: that the word is also used metaphorically in a different sense -- to suggest a fear of persecution.

In any case, like thousands of other words with multiple meanings, I don't think you'll have any trouble getting your meaning across, given the proper context.

I advise the detractors to familiarize themselves with the concept of Etymological fallacy.

  • Yes. I want to express the fact that she has a predisposition toward getting worried over simple things. Example: If I have to fly tonigh, I know that my mother will get worried about it the moment I tell her that. – Explorer Jan 29 '17 at 8:11
  • @Explorer: That's what I figured. Words like edgy/apprehensive won't work in that case. They come into play after she becomes worried. They're not really apt to describe her inherent quality of being worried easily. – Tushar Raj Jan 29 '17 at 8:18
  • Exactly. So, I guess Paranoid is the right one? – Explorer Jan 29 '17 at 8:22
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    'Paranoid' is often used this way idiomatically, but strictly speaking it is a medical term for severe mental illness and best avoided in a formal context. Similarly the use of 'schizophrenic' in a loose way to mean something like 'ambivalent' or 'unclear intent' is discouraged in style guides etc. That said, if you want to misuse a medical term, 'neurotic' might be a better fit . . . – peterG Jan 29 '17 at 13:32
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    Well, we are talking about very loose usage of the terms here, but I associate 'paranoid' with 'they're all out to get me', (suspicious or mistrustful, in your quoted definition) and 'neurotic' with 'have I left the back door unlocked', so . . . . – peterG Jan 29 '17 at 13:54
8

The word can be 'Jittery' or 'Restive' There are many simple words which fit the exact same description.

My mother is very jittery.

My Mother is very restive.

My Mother is very nervous.

P.S. Use a phrase instead.

  • Thank you. Is there a phrase for that? – Explorer Jan 29 '17 at 8:08
  • use, "on pins and needles" instead 'My mother is always on pins and needles.' @Explorer – Kirann Bhavaraju Jan 29 '17 at 8:15
  • Doesn't it mean something like 'fingers crossed'? – Explorer Jan 29 '17 at 8:18
  • @Explorer Yes. It means, 'nervously agitated'. but can also be used in a contextual sense as nervous or jumpy.. 'Paranoid' works good as well.. – Kirann Bhavaraju Jan 29 '17 at 8:30
4

Actually, there are so many simple words in English that mean exactly what you're looking for that I don't even find it very practical to list them all here except for a couple of the most commonly used ones.

My mother is very jumpy.

My mother is very edgy.

2

It's not a perfect definitional fit, but frantic is the exact word I'd use for my mother, er, your mother.

The exact definition is more active, rather than prone to the feeling. Typically, you will see something like "we were frantically searching ..." However, I find

My mother is very frantic

or

My mother is a frantic person

quite fitting.

  • 1
    The modern accepted definition of "frantic" ("marked by fast and nervous, disordered, or anxiety-driven activity") does not apply to someone who merely worries on behalf of someone else. – Dr. Funk Jan 30 '17 at 15:53
2

The word that my mother would use to describe such a person is panicky. That is, prone to "panic."

-2

flighty

From Merriam Webster:

Definition of flighty

...

2 : lacking stability or steadiness:

 a :  easily upset :  volatile <a flighty temper>
 b :  easily excited :  skittish <a flighty horse>
 c :  capricious, silly

Examples of flighty in a sentence:

"an actress who specializes in playing silly, flighty women"

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

protected by tchrist Jan 29 '17 at 16:53

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