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New study shows a positive side to worrying

Researchers show worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, and recovery from depression.

By Amy Wallace
New study shows a positive side to worrying
A new study by researchers at the University of California at Riverside has found that worrying can have beneficial effects on a person. Photo courtesy UC Riverside

April 27 (UPI) -- A new study by the University of California at Riverside shows there are many positive effects that can result from a person's worry.

Researchers identified the role of worry in motivating preventive and protective behavior and can help avoid unpleasant events.

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"Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile," Katie Sweeney, a psychology professor at UC Riverside, said in a press release. "It has motivational benefits, and it acts as an emotional buffer."

The study showed that worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, and recovery from depression. People who report greater worry may perform better in work or school, seek more information in response to stressful events and engage in more successful problem solving.

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Researchers found that worry served as a cue or warning that a situation is serious and requires action. They also found that worry motivates people to take action and find ways to reduce their worry.

Prior research has shown that worry can lead to preventive health behavior, for example, concern about skin cancer could be a predictor of sunscreen use.

"Interestingly enough, there are examples of a more nuanced relationship between worry and preventative behavior as well," Sweeny said. "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 or too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing."

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The study found that worry can benefit a person's emotional state as well by serving as an emotional benchmark and buffer in the case of bracing for the worst.

"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."

The study was published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

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