Worrying Can Benefit You in the Long Run, Says New Study, So Go Ahead And Have That Inner Freak Out Sesh
In my high school yearbook, we each had to choose a quote — a life mantra, if you will — to accompany our senior pictures. One of my close friends chose, "Hope for the best but expect the worse, and you'll never be disappointed." And, well, it looks like my old friend was really onto something: The New York Times just reported on a new study which claims worrying can actually be a good thing, particularly when your anxiety is laced with optimism like my former classmate's favorite idiom suggests.
To arrive at this conclusion, researchers followed the behavior of a group of 230 law students during the anxiety-inducing four-month span they awaited the results of the California bar exam. The students completed questionnaires to gauge their state of worry prior to taking the exam, every two weeks throughout the waiting period, and shortly after discovering whether they failed or passed. The goal was to ascertain which strategy of "waiting well" during periods of uncertainty actually behooves people best. Is there one certain coping mechanism that offers some sort of edge? To this end, the study examined three main camps of waiters: Those who tried to ignore or suppress the anxiety of waiting, those who sought silver linings (e.g. "I will grow as a person if I fail the bar exam"), and those "hoping for the best, bracing for the worst."
There's a term for this last approach, says Kate Sweeny, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and an author of the study: Defensive pessimism, or proactive coping. The gist of it is that you go into a situation with your fingers crossed for a good outcome but, because you assume you're in for a bad one, you develop contingency plans. The Times humanized this concept by looking at two recent law school grads from Chapman University. Mathieu Putterman and his wife, Anna, are now in the home stretch of waiting for their bar result exams. But while Mathieu feels calm, stating, "I had good preparation, so I'm expecting to pass," Anna isn't nearly as even-keeled. "I would never say 'I think I passed,'" she uttered, obviously worry-ridden.
Ultimately, though, Anna — for all her suffering in the interim — may come out ahead of her husband, even if she doesn't pass. "Those who sailed through the waiting period were shattered and paralyzed by the bad news," explains Dr. Sweeny."And if they got good news, they felt underwhelmed. You know, like, 'Big whoops!'" It is, quite literally, the embodiment of that yearbook idiom of yore. Hope for the best but expect the worst, and you'll never be disappointed. Worriers of the world, unite! Sure, the worrying portion is going to suck — but it'll pay big in emotional dividends after the fact.
So if you're in the throes of a intense waiting period, worry on, my fellow over-thinkers, and remember you aren't alone. But, also, look at these adorable GIFs of cute baby animals. It can't hurt to punctuate your worry spiral with a few minutes of cuddly zen, can it?
Feel free to resume normal internal freaking out now. It's just one of many things that seem "bad" for you, but which may actually have some benefits. So, hey, while you're at it, why not pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and chow down on some chocolate while you're freaking out? It's all for your own good!