Being a worry wart may not be so bad after all. In fact, it may even be beneficial to your mind and body, at least according to Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

“Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile,” said Sweeny, in a press release. “It has motivational benefits, and it acts as an emotional buffer.”

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Her recent article, published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, details the positive side to worrying.

Sweeny argues some of the upsides of being a worry wart include helping people recover from traumatic events or depression. Her paper also states that people who worry may be better problem-solvers.

Previous research has linked worrying to positive preventive health behaviors including seatbelt use, sunscreen use, and cancer-related screenings, like mammograms and clinical breast examinations.

“Women who reported moderate amounts of worry, compared to women reporting relatively low or high levels of worry, are more likely to get screened for cancer. It seems that both too much or too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing,” said Sweeny.

Worry’s Motivational Power

Sweeny’s paper, titled “The Surprising Upsides of Worry,” gives three explanations how worrying may motivate you.

1. If you’re worried, it may be a cue that a situation is serious and lead you to take action. For example, if you’re worried about contracting a sexually transmitted infection, but are unsure if you need to take steps towards preventing one, you may see your worry as sign your situation demands attention.

2. Worrying about a stressor keeps the stressor consistently on your mind, leading to frequent cues to action. For example, if someone constantly worries about dying in a car crash, they will most likely always remember to put a seatbelt on.

3. Being a worry wart can cue efforts to manage the unpleasant feelings that come along with the emotional state. For example, frequent worry about doing well in a job interview may lead you to spend more time preparing and applying to other open positions, which will in turn lessen your worry about whether the interview will be successful.

"Even in circumstances when efforts to prevent undesirable outcomes are futile, worry can motivate proactive efforts to assemble a ready-made set of responses in the case of bad news," said Sweeny. "In this instance, worrying pays off because one is actively thinking of a 'plan B.'"

Furthermore, Sweeny explains the indirect benefits of worry and how it serves as a buffer. When you worry, any other feeling seems to be more pleasurable. Therefore, worrying about the outcome of an event can lead to heightened positive emotions once you actually experience the outcome.

But, worrying too much can be detrimental to your mind and body.

“Extreme levels of worry are unquestionably harmful to one’s health and well-being, and at times, these negative consequences outweigh worry’s benefits,” Sweeny concluded in her paper. “Thus, we do not intend this paper to advocate excessive and unmitigated worry.”

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