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Some people can be especially neurotic or nervous by nature, living out their lives in a state of excessive worry. These obsessive concerns may either be global or amazingly minor in scope. Such a person is often said to be a worry wart, also rendered as worrywart or worry-wart in some literary references. A worry wart's fears are generally viewed by others as irrational or completely out of proportion to the actual situation.
A worry wart in an office environment, for example, may spend most of his or her time fretting over getting laid off or fired. While the actual chances of a worry wart actually becoming unemployed may be remote at best, a neurotic employee often seeks out advice from co-workers on how to handle his or her inevitable dismissal. Others may worry excessively about job performance or customer complaints or minor conflicts with their superiors.
A parent described as a worry wart may have irrational fears about their children's safety, causing him or her to take elaborate security steps in order to overprotect a child. News reports of a distant tragedy involving a child may cause a worry wart to install a security fence around the entire yard or to forbid a child from leaving the home at all without close supervision. What may constitute a minor childhood injury to some parents may represent a major medical emergency to a worry wart.
The origins of the idiom worry wart are shrouded in etymological mystery, unfortunately. Some sources suggest the phrase was first used to describe exceptionally neurotic residents of mental hospitals in a handbook dating from 1956. Others believe the description was first used as the name of a character in a 1950s comic strip called Out Our Way. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, the phrase worry wart was already in the popular slang vernacular long before either of those publications appeared.
Some may also use the description Nervous Nellie to describe a highly strung individual with neurotic tendencies. Most worry warts can still function normally in society, although others may become very aware of their tendency to overreact upon receiving minor bad news or to obsess over small details instead of grasping the bigger picture of a troubling situation.