The negative health effects of worrying are endless. Chronic worrying means stress hormones are circulating in your blood stream for a prolonged period of time. Nutrition and women's health writer Theresa Francis-Cheung says high levels of these chemicals in the long run can begin to have a toxic effect of the glands, nervous system, and the heart, meaning an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and stomach ulcers.
However, a recent paper in the journal Social & Personality Psychology Compass claims otherwise. “A review of the effects of worry revealed that worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and uptake of health-promoting behaviours,” writes the researcher behind the breakthrough, Kate Sweeney, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California. But as you might have already guessed, the claim comes with a catch.
Sweeney says worry is good for alerting us to the fact that there's something we need to be paying attention and maybe do something about: “From an evolutionary perspective, psychology folks might say that we develop these patterns of negative emotions, including worry, because they're useful.”
Other research has revealed that Americans who worried about skin cancer were likelier to apply sunscreen, and those who worried about breast cancer were likelier to get regular mammograms. So worrying might just be your brain telling you to take action. As long as you are heeding these signals and taking an active approach to worries, the benefits are plentiful. For example, when it comes to waiting, worriers are more productive than others. If you're waiting for some medical test results or an offer letter from that big MNC, worrying can prompt you to make contingency plans instead of doing nothing.
Sweeney's research is certainly not telling people to cultivate the worrywart in them or to dismiss severe anxiety issues they or their loved ones might be facing. In fact, her research says that saying 'Hey don't worry', or 'Stop worrying,' is extremely harmful as it isolates the other person. “It's really harmful to feel that sense of not only am I suffering, but I'm suffering in the wrong way,” she adds.
Worrying isn't the same as dwelling on the past. Instead it's an opportunity to look ahead and make the best out of your situation. Perhaps now you will practice your speech ahead of the big day and refurbish your CV even if you have applied for the dream job.
The writer is In-charge of the career publication of The Daily Star.