UCR professor and student find the upside to worrying

Courtesy of UCR Living the Promise

On Friday, Feb. 21, UCR Psychology Professor Kate Sweeny and fourth-year psychology graduate student Mike Dooley published a review study on the benefits to worrying. In their research, Sweeny and Dooley emphasize the two main benefits of worrying: Worry as a motivator and worry as a buffer.  

The research was conducted by looking over decades of previous studies. In performing their research, Sweeny stated that she and her research partner “combed the research on worry to find everything they could on its benefits, while also making sure they were giving attention to worry’s costs.”

The motivational effects of worrying was the first benefit their study found. Sweeny and Dooley went on to explain why worrying has these motivational effects. First, it “serves as a cue that the situation may be serious and this requires action.” Next, by worrying about a certain event, it keeps that item “at the front of one’s mind and provides frequent and continual cues to action.” Lastly, worry can motivate a person to find ways to reduce their worry because of the unpleasantness of the feeling. An example of the motivational effects can be seen when a person goes to the doctor for preventative health care or uses products to keep them healthy because they fear diseases or cancer; this could be getting vaccines, preventative health screenings or even just wearing sunscreen.

The second discovered outcome is that worrying serves as an emotional buffer in the sense that if “people’s feelings of worry over a future outcome are sufficiently intense and unpleasant, their emotional response to the outcome they ultimately experience will seem more pleasurable (or at least, less unpleasurable) in comparison to their previous, worried state,” according to Sweeny and Dooley’s study. When people realize their worst fears did not come to fruition, they will feel better than if they had thought more positively.

After conducting their research, Dooley reflected on the benefits that he found surprising during the study. “Worrying can be essential to success by helping the individual think in ways that guide practical action,” he said, “Successful planning requires a mental shift to focus on difficulties and challenges, and escalating feelings of worry.”

Though they found these benefits, Sweeny and Dooley also acknowledged that there are negative effects to worrying too much. In their conclusion, they pointed out that, “Extreme levels of worry are unquestionably harmful to one’s health and well-being, and at times, these negative consequences outweigh worry’s benefits.”

When asked what they hope readers will understand from the study, Dooley remarked that people should not “worry about being worried. Worry is a natural experience that our culture has progressively shunned. Instead, we should recognize that worry has benefits, and positivity alone may not be ideal.” Sweeny said she hopes “readers who find themselves plagued with worry might take some comfort in knowing that worry is both normal and even useful.” She continued by encouraging people to utilize their stress productively.

When asked their opinion of the study, third-year finance major Ruby Ramirez explained that she had similar thoughts to what the study found. “I believe that there are two main kinds of worrying that exists on a varying spectrum — helpful worrying and harmful worrying. Helpful worrying can really motivate you to take action when you should while harmful worrying can really waste your energy and time.”

Sweeny and Dooley currently conduct their research in the Psychology’s Life Event Lab which is located on the third floor of the psychology building.

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