Breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief, all you list-making over-planners.
A recent article argues that worry has motivational and emotional benefits. In her paper titled “The Surprising Upsides to Worry,” Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, argues that worry is a tool that people can harness to avoid unsatisfactory situations. She contends that worry is a way of recovering from past trauma — and worriers perform better in school and at work, are better problem solvers and take active steps towards better health.
“Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile,” Sweeny wrote. “It has motivational benefits, and it acts as an emotional buffer.”
Worry is a motivating asset in preventative care. Sweeny says that Americans who worry about cancer used more sunscreen, did self-exams at home and had regular mammograms more often than less worrisome people. They’re also more likely to wear seatbelts.
She cites three main reasons why worry is a motivator: It’s a cue that this worrisome trigger is serious and requires attention, worry holds a person’s attention and prompts him or her to act, and, since worrying isn’t the best feeling, being worried gets people to be proactive about reducing their worry.
“Worry can motivate proactive efforts to assemble a ready-made set of responses in the case of bad news,” Sweeny said. “Worrying pays off because one is actively thinking of a ‘plan B.'”
Worry is also a good emotional buffer. If you find yourself intensely worried about something, everything good that happens, by contrast, feels even better because it was preceded by all that negativity.
Sweeny cautions that “extreme levels of worry are harmful to one’s health,” and that she doesn’t “advocate for excessive worrying.” She hopes, instead, “to provide reassurance to the helpless worrier – planning and preventative action is not a bad thing. Worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all.”