I am a worrier. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I am in an almost constant state of alarm, concerned about the happenings of my current and future days. I worry I will not be able to find a parking spot in the morning. I worry I will not do well on a test. I worry I will be rejected from all the graduate schools I apply to. I worry about almost everything. And what do I hear as comfort from most people? “Don’t worry so much.”
As it turns out, their advice might be wrong. My worrying could actually be beneficial to my overall mental health. A recent study in the journal Emotion provided evidence that individuals who were more anxious and concerned while waiting for potentially bad news were more positively affected by good results and less negatively impacted by bad ones as compared to those who were not worried. The authors refer to this effect as “waiting well.”
High states of anxiety are not good for mental health. Increases in cortisol, the hormone closely related to anxious states, can place your body under unnecessary physical stress. However, low levels of anxiety that come with worrying can boost your cortisol just enough that it is beneficial to your overall state.
The research done in Emotion focused on students in the high-stress environment of law school as they began to prepare for bar exams. However, the findings can be applied to many situations.
Think about this in terms of an exam for a class. You take an exam and are completely confident that you did well. You spend the next week hardly thinking about it, only to get it back and find that you have failed. You will not be ready for the bad grade and, therefore, will be more upset than someone who spent time worrying and preparing themselves for a potentially negative outcome.
Oppositely, if you get a perfect score, it will be what you expected, so you will be less joyful than someone who was worried about how they scored. Worrying can make you happier in the long run because you will be more relieved and positively affected by a good outcome.
College is full of situations that would constitute high stress and worrying. Most people say stop worrying, but that, perhaps, is not the best advice. I say, worry away.