Worrying Is Good For You, So Stop Worrying That It’s Bad For You

Waiting, as they say, is the hardest part. No one likes the unknown and when you’re forced to wait for answers, your mind will start to imagine the possibilities, growing anxious about the worst possible outcomes. And anxiety breeds worry, that delicious feeling of turning a thought over and over in your head. “Don’t worry!” people tell you, as they drag you by the hand to 7 a.m. yoga, thinking it might calm your nerves. “Stop perseverating! It’s not good,” they say when that doesn’t work, passing you a spliff. You can stave off anxiety and worry in any number of ways, from smoking weed and rearranging your closet to cardio kickboxing, but the good news is that you don’t have to if you don’t want. Worrying, it turns out, isn’t that bad for you after all.

A study published in the chill-sounding journal Emotion looked at law school grads in California waiting for the results of the bar exam, which takes an excruciating four months (that’s insane). The study focused mostly on the effect of worrying during a waiting period and asked participants to fill out a questionnaire every two weeks during the four months.

People quickly fell into two camps: “good” waiters and “poor” waiters. The good waiters accepted that whatever was going to happen was going to happen, and breezed through the waiting period by distracting themselves. The “poor” waiters practiced what the researchers call “defensive pessimism” which is basically hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. It’s simple: if you have the tools in place to handle the worst possible news, anything other than that will feel like a victory. This kind of shit drives optimists and Pollyannas up a wall, but when you find out that whatever result you were waiting on was just okay as opposed to wonderful, you at least haven’t disappointed yourself as much.

Here’s all the proof you need that worrying is totally and completely okay.

When it came to how people handled the news, “The poor waiters did great,” Dr. Sweeny said. If the news was bad, the worriers were ready with productive, reasonable responses. “And if they passed, they were elated.”

But woe to those who had remained calm.

“Those who sailed through the waiting period were shattered and paralyzed by the bad news,” Dr. Sweeny said. “And if they got good news, they felt underwhelmed. You know, like, ‘Big whoops!’ ”

There you have it. Never assume that the best is going to happen to you because you’ll end up picking up the pieces as you sob inconsolably on your bedroom floor. Embrace your worries, prepare for the worst and you won’t be disappointed.

[NY Times]