Worry can be good for both mind and body, new research concludes.
Worry can help to motivate us and work to protect the emotions.
Psychologists find that people who worry more tend to:
- recover better from traumatic events,
- prepare and adapt to stressful events better,
- and do things to improve their health.
For example, worriers are more likely to get mammograms, self-check their breasts and seek help for any problems.
Professor Kate Sweeny, the study’s first author, said:
“Interestingly enough, there are examples of a more nuanced relationship between worry and preventive behavior as well.
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.
It seems that both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing.”
The research suggests worry can even be a good motivator to find ways to stop worrying.
Professor Sweeny said:
“Even in circumstances when efforts to prevent undesirable outcomes are futile, worry can motivate proactive efforts to assemble a ready-made set of responses in the case of bad news.
In this instance, worrying pays off because one is actively thinking of a ‘plan B.'”
When people get ready for the worst, research finds, it helps to protect them emotionally.
Professor Sweeny said:
“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.”
Naturally, excessive worrying can be very troublesome, Professor Sweeny said:
“Extreme levels of worry are harmful to one’s health.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass (Sweeny & Dooley, 2017).