Gay Mackie

Science Sez: Don’t Worry, Just Worry

Worrying research from California has explained that a worry-first lifestyle is actually beneficial to your mental health.


Worrywart. Fraidy cat. Wet blanket.

Just a few of the labels that have stuck in my lifetime. But, you know what? They’re entirely legitimate, and most of those who felt the need to remind me of the merits of the ragged edge they balance on have subsequently fallen off it. I don’t want to make this about size – “my lifespan is bigger than your lifespan” – but, to those people in particular, feel free to write a detraction to this piece.

I’m not scared of life’s events. Just careful, for I know what they can bring. The only thing for certain that we’re granted as a species, is crisis. I’m fairly convinced that we thrive on it, or at the very least, seek it out. I’ve decided to live life carefully, because life doesn’t know how to drive appropriately.

Now, I’ve been informed that a Californian study has validated my worry-first lifestyle. Not that I trust the findings of a sun-tanned golden-locked undergraduate [“professor” – Ed].

According to the study, penned by Professor Kate Sweeny, there are merits in abundance, chiefly in that worrying offers an emotional buffer. A safeguard. Or “a seatbelt,” as the study says. The benefits of such a “negative” outlook are likened to preventative cure. Click, clack, jumping to the worst of conclusions, front and back.

Sweeney claims “a nuanced relationship between worry and preventive behavior” exists; for example, in the professor’s own words: “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.”

There are three explanations for worry’s motivating effects, according to the paper:

1. Worry serves as a cue that a situation is serious and requires action. People use their emotions as a source of information when making judgments and decisions.

2. Worrying about a stressor keeps the stressor at the front of one’s mind and prompts people toward action.

3. 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,” Sweeny said. “In this instance, worrying pays off because one is actively thinking of a ‘Plan B’.”

The other theory espoused by the good Professor is kept in a phrase as proudly old as yours truly: that the worst of our fears are seldom realized.

With that in mind, worry is the fleecy blanket that warms the freezing far corners of our mind’s assumption. While we prepare for the absolute worst, in that one Tsunami will beget thousands and we’ll all be washed out to sea, or have our heads swept off our shoulders by fundamentalist terrorists; when that does not come to pass, the feeling of pleasure is not only tangible, it rises above all others. We survived the crisis, even if we manufactured it ourselves.

After all, what is preferable? A good experience from a bad one? Or the reverse?

Worry on.


Gay Mackie

Gay Mackie is a retired print journalist who spends her time at yoghurt, tap dancing, and asleep between the hours of 2-4pm. She'd also like to make it clear that The Big Smoke Australia Editor-in-Chief is her grandson.

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