Worry is powerful
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Worrying has gotten a bad rap in our society. We strive to be chill and level-headed and consider people who worry to be alarmist or too tightly wound. While no one is saying that pervasive, generalized anxiety is a good thing (it’s a mental illness actually), everyday worrying has some real advantages. According to a recent study, published in Social & Personality Psychology Compass, a little anxiety is healthy—helping people recover from trauma, be better planners, prepare more thoroughly, live a healthier lifestyle, and even overcome depression. The challenge is to reap the rewards of worrying without going over the edge. The trick, according to Shelly Smith-Acuña, PhD, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, lies in how you use your worries. “Adaptive worry alerts you to dangers and threats, clarifies the problem, can lead you to seek help or more information from others, and then helps you solve the problem,” she explains. Here’s how you can worry “the right way.”
Worry about your health
Feel a twinge in your chest or take a nasty fall? One of the first responses of your body is to worry—and that’s a good thing, according to Dr. Smith-Acuña. People who worry are more likely to seek preventative care like yearly check-ups, mammograms, colonoscopies, and even wear sunscreen, she says. A little worry can also spur you to make a plan to help with current problems, like losing weight or cleaning up your diet. But there’s a fine line between acting on your worries to prevent future problems and becoming a full-blown hypochondriac. “Don’t constantly be checking ‘Dr. Google,’ and instead follow-up with people who can help you, like your doctor,” she says. “And don’t worry so much that it has the opposite effect, making you scared to see a doctor.” (If you’re going to check Dr. Google, know the signs you can’t trust health information you just found on the We
Worry about your career
Most of us work and consequently most of us worry about our work. Are we doing well enough? Does our boss like us? Are we stagnating? Will our company go under? Worrying obsessively about these concerns won’t help your career, but a little fear can help you achieve your goals, according to Dr. Smith-Acuña. “Sometimes worry highlights legitimate problems with your job that you shouldn’t ignore,” she explains. “Worrying can help you leave a bad job or at least get you to update your resume, ask for help, or seek other resources.” On the other hand, worrying too much at work may hurt your self confidence, cause you to give up too easily, or become overly sensitive to coworkers. (Here’s how to build trust with coworkers.) As long as your worries are motivating you to act productively, they’re helpful. Let them go if they’re having the opposite effect.