I worry a lot. I worry about my friends, my health, my planet. Heck, I worry about worrying too much.
It can keep me up at night wondering whether I’ve ruined my shoes by buying shoe polish, or it can make me read that one email 10 times before sending it off. It can be tempting to hate my brain for worrying so much.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh on myself. Every human being worries. And it turns out, worrying can have some surprising upsides, as professor Kate Sweeny recently wrote. So if you’re the kind of person who worries about worrying, here are two big things to remember, courtesy of Sweeny:
1. Worrying is a track coach, keeping our brains active and motivated.
Nobody would hate their brains for making them feel scared when there’s a big, obvious danger. Like an angry tiger. Or a bear. Or an angry tiger riding a bear. In that case, we need an immediate motivator for an immediate problem.
But our brains need a subtler response to subtler problems. Worry and anxiety can help our brains recognize and focus on long-term problems or motivate us to make better choices, like wearing our seat belts or applying sunscreen to avoid skin cancer.
2. Worrying is an emotional cushion, making our highs higher and lows not as bad.
Though worrying itself is unpleasant, it can help balance out our other emotions. One study showed the BBC television sitcom “Fawlty Towers” got funnier after watching a tense horror movie.
On the flip side, if things end up going south, your brain has already prepared itself. So worrying can be an emotional win-win.
But like all things, there’s a right amount.
While a little worry can help us stay motivated, too much can paralyze us and can be a sign of anxiety disorders. If that’s what’s going on, taking a break from Facebook, practicing meditation, exercising, and talking with a therapist can all help reduce anxiety.
So, biologically, don’t hate your brain for worrying.
Worry can be stressful. It’s not fun to stay awake thinking about what you’re going to say to your boss on Monday, whether you’re eating right, or whether you’re being a good friend. You might find yourself beset by worries at the worst time.
And that’s OK. We can’t always control our brains, but we worrywarts don’t always need to feel bad for worrying. Sometimes it’s our brain just helping us out.