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People who worry incessantly about failure could be better off than those who don’t

Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo
Embrace stress.
By Amy X. Wang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

For everyone who’s ever been told that they worry too much—here’s some deeply satisfying news for you.

Worrying may be a good thing.

At least, it is when you’re facing the risk of bad news. In a recent study published in the journal Emotion, researchers tracked 230 California law school graduates as they waited for the results of their state bar exam, the test that determines whether they’re officially qualified to practice law. The findings: Over the four-month waiting period, the graduates who neurotically dwelled on worst-case scenarios of failure—versus those who tried to distract themselves and cope with stress in other ways—ending up responding better to bad news and more happily to good news when the scores were finally released.

So if you’re waiting to hear about an outcome, wallowing in fear and self-doubt for a while could actually be much more helpful than trying to make those feelings go away.

“Participants who suffered through a waiting period marked by anxiety, rumination, and pessimism responded more productively to bad news and more joyfully to good news, as compared with participants who suffered little during the wait,” the study’s authors wrote. “These findings substantiate the difficulty of enduring a stressful waiting period but suggest that this difficulty may pay off once the news arrives.”

Granted, the study size of 230 people is small, and the conclusions were made from questionnaires that the graduates filled out every two weeks. Still, its implications — that being distressed about the future might be more healthy than staying calm — could, with further research, shed light on the curious mechanisms behind how we deal with anxiety and failure.

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