The Health Benefits of Worrying
Worrying: We all do it, some of us more than others. (We can all think of a person in our lives we wish would worry a little more than they do.) If you're worried about how much you worry, get this: It's actually good for you. In moderation, of course.
"Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile," said Kate Sweeny, worry researcher and psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, to the university. "It has motivational benefits and it acts as an emotional buffer."
Worrying can actually help you emotionally prepare yourself for and bounce back from bad situations and encourage you to take care of yourself, Sweeny found through her research. And people who report more worry might perform better at work or school and be better problem solvers.
A buffer for your emotions
When you expect the worst, you're setting yourself up to be pleasantly surprised, right? That sounds pretty negative, but it's a little bit true. Worrying about things before they happen can prevent you from being taken off guard if things crash and burn. And if things go well, you'll be that much more relieved. Either way, worry protects you from disappointment and helps you bounce back in the event of a letdown.
Besides, regardless of the outcome, not much is worse than worrying about a stressful thing ahead of time.
"If people's feelings of worry over a future outcome are sufficiently intense and unpleasant, their emotional response to the outcome they ultimately experience will seem more pleasurable in comparison to their previous, worried state," Sweeny said.
Worrying a little about your health is a good thing
Do you religiously slather on sunscreen every day because of a fear of skin cancer? Good. A little worry about your health will inspire you to take measures that will keep you healthier, like wearing your seatbelt in the car, Sweeny found. In a nationally representative study of people in the U.S., worry about skin cancer was linked to sunscreen use. People who were more worried about cancer got more regular cancer screenings and mammograms and conducted more breast self-exams.
Too little or too much worry and these behaviors fall off, she said. Too little worry and you fool yourself into thinking it could never happen to you. Too much worry can paralyze you and make you avoid the doctor's office.
"Women who reported moderate amounts of worry, compared to women reporting relatively low or high levels of worry, are more likely to get screened for cancer," Sweeny said. "It seems that both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing."
Why does worry motivate us?
According to Sweeny, there are three reasons:
-Worry is a red flag that a situation is serious and requires action
-Worrying about something keeps it at the front of your mind and pushes you to action
-Worrying feels horrible so you're encouraged to fix whatever is bothering you
Moderate worry helps us get stuff done. On the other hand, chronic worry—worrying all the time about things big and small—can be really bad for you, both mentally and physically. If you're a worry wart, practicing calming your brain through meditation could be beneficial. (If you need a quick fix, watching nature videos has been shown to be a stress reliever.)
"Extreme levels of worry are harmful to one's health," Sweeny said. "I do not intend to advocate for excessive worrying. Instead, I hope to provide reassurance to the helpless worrier—planning and preventive action is not a bad thing. Worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all."