“Rub some dirt on it.”
It’s the standard-issue command to shake it off and move on when life knocks you down. Everywhere you look, the message is clear. Don’t worry. Be happy. Worry is every mom’s ugly step sister – the one who lolls about all day forcing her to do the heavy lifting and locking her up when the party starts.
Worry, however, can be a good thing. Worry, in all its glory, can actually help a sister out. According to a recent study, it actually signifies an “uptake of health-promoting behaviors.” It reminds you to schedule those flu shots and put on sunscreen and have your cholesterol checked. It can motivate you to take the family for a walk, to execute some self-care, and to exercise the proper dose of self-awareness required to keep yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
Worry, it turns out, comes with benefits.
According to psychologists Kate Sweeny and Michael Dooley, one such benefit is that “worry illuminates the importance of taking action to prevent an undesirable outcome.” It also “keeps the situation at the forefront of one’s mind to ensure that appropriate action is taken.” Preventative measures require foresight and a little worry provides just that. It lets you see ahead to the pothole in the road, the sniffle that might turn into a cold, the Band-Aid in the sandbox.
The payoffs of an anticipatory mindset aren’t just about warding off disaster either. Worry can reveal your priorities, showing you where your mind tends to hover when you let it loose. It can also buffer bad news. The worst can be made a little better with a little preparation. Worry can even make you more productive, giving you the nudge you need to check the things off your list because you had the prescience to make a list to begin with. In other words, worry is not always a reason to worry.
Worry can also be a sign of intelligence. It has a direct correlation to increased verbal skills such as reading, writing, and problem-solving. This makes sense. As researcher and psychologist Alexander Penney notes, “people who are verbally intelligent have the capacity to replay past events and think of future possibilities to a greater extent than other people.” Worriers tend to ruminate and rumination leads to awareness and the ability to link actions with consequences. It’s why young kids rarely worry. They are still learning why running with sticks and screaming in Target are bad ideas. It’s also why moms know to start packing up the pool bag half an hour before departure, stash diapers and snacks in the car, and ninja crawl out of their kid’s room at night. Warding off disaster is what moms do best.
If you’re a parent who worries, it seems research is trending your way. In small doses, it can make you a more productive, self-aware, pro-active individual. The key, as always, is the dosage. As long as your worries aren’t inhibiting daily life, a little foresight goes a long way. So, the next time someone tells you to “just stop worrying,” tell them science is on your side.