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Contrary to many studies pointing to the downsides of stress, worrying actually has its physical and mental benefits, according to a new paper in the journal Social and Personality and Psychology Compass.

“Despites its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile,” said Kate Sweeny, the author, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside. “It has motivational benefits, and it acts as an emotional buffer.”

The meta-analysis of the values of worry included a series of studies that looked at worriers and how they fared in various health situations.

Those who anticipated car accidents used seatbelts, they found. Sexually-active adults who were concerned about sexually transmitted diseases were more often vigilant about safe sex. Those fearing skin cancer used sunscreen more consistently. And women who reported greater worries about breast cancer were more vigilant about breast examinations and mammograms, they found.

Basically, the statistics showed that stressing too much or too little about possible hazards did harm – while just the right amount of worry led to better outcomes.

“It seems that both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing,” Sweeny added.

Further benefits are also produced the right amount of fretting. For instance, it gives a person a kind of agency even where odds are insurmountable, because someone can think of a “Plan B” to offset the worst outcomes. Also, pleasure from a good experience is heightened when it follows some serious worrying. Finally, pessimism is an emotional buffer when bad things happen, she adds.

Too much worrying remains a health hazard, when it is paralyzing. But just the right amount is a natural way to avoid pitfalls in life, the psychologist writes in her assessment.

“Extreme levels of worry are harmful to one’s health,” writes Sweeny. “I do not intend to advocate for excessive worrying. Instead, I hope to provide reassurance to the helpfulness worrier – planning and preventive action is not a bad thing.”

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