A new study by a psychology professor at the University of California – Riverside shows that there is a positive side to worrying.
“Worry — it does a body good. And, the mind as well,” said Kate Sweeny in the paper published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass.
“Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile. It has motivational benefits and it acts as an emotional buffer,” added Sweeny.
In her study, Sweeny found that worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and partaking in activities that promote health, and prevent illness.
Surprisingly, she said that people who report greater worry may perform better — in school or at the workplace — seek more information in response to stressful events and engage in more successful problem solving.
In the paper, Sweeny noted three explanations for worry’s motivating effects.
“Firstly, worry serves as a cue that the situation is serious and requires action. People use their emotions as a source of information when making judgements and decisions,” she noted.
Secondly, worrying about a stressor keeps the stressor at the front of one’s mind and prompts people toward action and lastly, the unpleasant feeling of worry motivates people to find ways to reduce their worry.
“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’,” Sweeny said.
Worry can also benefit one’s emotional state by serving as an emotional bench-mark. Compared to the state of worry, any other feeling is pleasurable by contrast.
In other words, the pleasure that comes from a good experience is heightened if preceded by a bad experience.