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Worrying may lead to healthy behaviors

Harold Mandel's picture

A UC Riverside psychology professor says there is a positive side to spending a lot of time worrying.


We generally think of worrying as being a negative emotion that is associated with health problems. However researchers are now saying there is an upside to worrying and that it may in fact set off positive health behaviors.

Worrying about your health can motivate you

Certainly when there is limited health literacy there will be problems getting good quality health care. Worrying about your health can motivate you to become health literate. This can even lead to businesses implementing new preventive health solutions to lower health risks for employees. The University of California, Riverside reports there is actually an upside to worrying. The body and mind can benefit from worrying.

Sometimes worry is not destructive

Kate Sweeny, who is a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, says even though worrying has
a negative reputation, sometimes worry is not destructive. There can be motivational benefits associated with worrying and it can act as an emotional buffer.

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It is pointed out by Sweeny that worrying can lead people to avoid events which are not pleasant. Worrying can help with the recovery from traumatic events and help with adaptive preparation and planning. Recovery from depression can be facilitated with worrying. Worrying can help motivate you to take part in activities which promote health while also preventing illness. It also seems that people who worry may perform better in school or at work as they seek more information dealing with stressful events.

There are preventive health behaviors associated with the motivational power of worrying. Consider that worrying about skin cancer can lead to using high quality sunscreen and worrying about breast cancer can lead to doing more self-examinations.

Worrying gives us a cue that the situation we are dealing with is serious

Worrying gives us a cue that the situation we are dealing with is serious and needs action. And the unpleasant feelings which accompany worrying can serve as a motivation for people to search for effective ways to decrease their worrying. All along worrying about any particular stressor motivates people to take action.

An emotional buffer can be a benefit of worrying. Consider that getting ready for the worst possible circumstances provides indirect evidence dealing with the role of worry as an emotional buffer. As people get ready for the worst they hold on to a pessimistic outlook aimed at mitigating potential disappointment. In this context excitement is boosted if the news is good.

This study has been published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass. With worrying we experience an aversive emotional experience which arises alongside repetitive unpleasant thoughts dealing with the future. Researchers say even though extreme levels of worry may be harmful for your overall health, there can be an upside to worry. By worrying you may become motivated to adhere to healthy behaviors. So perhaps it's a good idea to just spend some time worrying.