Even if your approach to life is more lackadaisical Winnie the Pooh than high-strung Piglet, we all have anxieties about something or another. Although it has something of a bad reputation, recent research suggests that occasional worrying can be a good thing in some ways — if nothing else, it's an excellent motivator to take care of yourself.
In an article published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, University of California, Riverside, psychologists argue that there are some benefits to worrying. First of all, it's important to note the difference between worrying and what's known in psychology as "rumination." To put it simply, both involve persistent thoughts about negative events, but worry tends to focus on future sources of anxiety, while rumination tends to focus on the past. When taken to the extreme, worrying can obviously become a problem. However, unlike rumination, researchers argue that worrying "draws attention to opportunities for people to take control" of future events.
As the article goes on to point out, past studies back this up. A study published in 2007 suggested that among college students, naturally-ocurring worry led to more problem-solving — and their solutions even worked sometimes. Research has also found a relationship between worrying and a variety of healthy behaviors, from wearing your seat belt to getting regular cancer screenings. Basically, it can inspire people to prepare for the worst.
In addition to the motivational aspect, the UC Riverside psychologists write that worrying can serve as an "emotional buffer." By definition, worrying is a naturally unpleasant experience, so everything else seems happier or more fun in comparison — something known as affective contrast. Not much research has been conducted specifically in terms of worrying, but what little there is suggests that the more you worry, the better you feel when things go well. You've probably heard similar theories from a pessimist: If you brace for the worst, you won't be as disappointed if it comes to pass.
However, this all comes with a huge caveat. The UC Riverside paper is talking about regular amounts of worry, not the excessive, uncontrollable kind associated with anxiety disorders. Worry is a natural part of life, but when it becomes your entire life, it's associated with a range of mental and physical health problems. Long-term stress has far more negative outcomes than benefits.
The paper's lead author, Kate Sweeny, emphasized the difference between regular and extreme worry, but she said the paper is intended to reassure the everyday worrywarts out there. "Worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all," she said, according to Science Daily.
I'd say Piglet is feeling pretty validated right now.