Are you worrying enough?



Nobody likes to worry.

And of the big five personality traits, being neurotic is almost always a bad thing. We can talk about the pros and cons of introverts and extroverts, or debate the upside and downside of being conscientious but neuroticism always seems to be a negative.

However, there are a few exceptions.

Worrying, in reasonable amounts, ups your game by making you aware of problems and more likely to address them. For instance, it can make worriers better friends, lovers and employees:

Existing research on guilt suggests that people who expect to feel guilty tend to be more sympathetic, to put themselves into other people’s shoes, to think about the consequences of their behaviour before acting, and to treasure their morals.

As a result they are less prone to lie, cheat or behave immorally when they conduct a business deal or spot an opportunity to make money, studies suggest.

They are also likely to make better employees because people who think less about the future results of their actions are more likely to be late, to steal or to be rude to clients.

While neuroticism is often associated with negative health consequences, a bit of worry, in some circumstances, has been shown to extend life.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

When men who had lost their wives were also highly neurotic, their subsequent mortality risk was reduced— by half! For the married men who were not bereaved, their degree of neuroticism didn’t impact their longevity. What could be going on here? It seems that the worriers were much more willing to take care of their health after their wives were gone. Generally speaking, the masculine man is less willing to get that prostate exam, put on the seat belt, complain to the doctor, or worry about blood pressure. This is especially a problem when his wife is gone. But being a worrier reduced these risks.

When we think of worrying and performance we usually think of choking — a performance killer. But a mild amount of anxiety during practice actually reduces choking on game day:

It is concluded that practicing perceptual-motor tasks under mild levels of anxiety can also prevent choking when performing with higher levels of anxiety.

You need a little stress to be at your best. Low-to-moderate time pressure produces optimal results in the workplace.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

If managers regularly set impossibly short time-frames or impossibly high workloads, employees become stressed, unhappy, and unmotivated—burned out. Yet, people hate being bored. It was rare for any participant in our study to report a day with very low time pressure, such days—when they did occur—were also not conducive to positive inner work life. In general, then, low-to-moderate time pressure seems optimal for sustaining positive thoughts, feelings, and drives. 

So there are some upsides to worrying but it’s no fun and often unnecessary. I’ve posted before about the three best things you can do to reduce stress but let’s face it — most people won’t click that link.

So they should just eat some vanilla ice cream:

In a medical study of patients undergoing a tense procedure for cancer diagnosis, a vanilla scent mixed into humidified air lessened anxiety up to 63% compared to patients who were administered humidified air alone (Redd et al. 2005). The retail domain has noticed vanilla’s beneficial effects too, with stores such as Sony Style diffusing a blend of vanilla and orange notes into the air so as to put shoppers at ease when contemplating complex technology products (Vlahos 2007).

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