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The Surprising Positive Benefits of Being a Worrier

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If you're a worrier, you know there are all kinds of things that can cause that mental anguish—not least of all, worrying about how much time you spend worrying! But rest assured, there are also some science-backed benefits associated with an anxious mind.

For one thing, worrying may mean your brain is better at analyzing and breaking down language-based information. A recent study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, looked at the overlap between worrying, depression, and different forms of intelligence. When it came to picking apart and comprehending verbal information, the worries tended to kick butt compared to the Pollyannas. (Say goodbye to anxiety with these 9 Fears to Let Go of Today.)

“It is possible that more verbally intelligent individuals are able to consider past and future events in greater detail,” the study authors speculated in their report. Although that backwards-looking ability leads to worrying, it’s still a sign of greater intelligence, the study suggests.

While the line between excessive, unhealthy anxiety and run-of-the-mill worrying is extremely blurry, here are a few more kind-of-cool things science has tied to worrying:

You may be more evolved. That might be a slight exaggeration, but worrying does seem to be an evolutionary byproduct of advanced intelligence, the Canadian study authors say. Here’s why: Worriers are more aware of potentially threatening situations than non-worriers. And that awareness would have kept your ancestors alive while other, less cautious cavemen and women perished. So consider yourself the very top of the evolutionary pyramid.

You’re a quick(er) study. Moderate levels of some worry-related hormones, like cortisol, actually fire up your brain’s learning abilities, indicates research from the University of Colorado. If you think you’re in trouble, it makes sense that your brain would be hyper-focused and ready to absorb and tackle new information, the research suggests.

Worry is motivating. Sure, there are the types of debilitating anxiety that prevent you from making decisions. But a little worry can lead to constructive, thoughtful self-evaluation and action, shows research from Stanford University. The study team found that worrying in some students was predictive of better test scores. Why? Their anxiety pushed them to study harder.

Now, big disclaimer: While all of these potential side-effects of a little worrying are interesting, the dark side of anxiety is very real and can be very harmful. Stress has been linked to everything from having to pee a lot (yes, seriously) to heart disease and depression (and those are just a few of the 8 Scary Ways Stress is Affecting Your Health).

If you feel like your worrying is a little (or a lot) out of control, especially this time of year, ease your mind with the tips in How to Deal with Stress Around the Holidays.

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