by Julia Buckley
I have always been a worrier; since I was tiny I have found things to dread, and my mind works them over as a cow chews cud. As an adult, this worry has gone beyond just thinking to the occasional full-blown panic attack and fairly regular obsessive-compulsive behaviors. It was especially bad when my children were little and I would worry over everything: Did they remember their lunches? Were they doing all right in school? Were they being safe? Were they afraid of anything?
If I was going to be delayed (I had no cell phone), I worried that they would worry. Would they know I was coming soon? Would they be the last children left waiting? Would this affect their feelings of security, of confidence? Would this make them cry? My relentless brain turned thoughts over and over like clothes in a washing machine, and it created a sort of misery.
There is no doubt that this behavior is inherited; my mother was much the same way, and it began too early in my life for it to be a learned trait. In addition, I saw the same patterns emerging in my older son (but not my younger) even in babyhood.
But now scientists have suggested that worry, despite the anguish it may seem to cause, is a positive thing that evolved along with human intelligence. According to Dr. Jeremy Coplan, head of this study, ""While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be," said Dr. Coplan. "In essence, worry may make people 'take no chances,' and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species."
In addition, studies showed that, among people with General Anxiety Disorder, there was a high correlation between those with greater degree of worry and those of higher intelligence.
There is no doubt that my worry, especially as the mother of teenage boys, often takes the form of trying to avoid dangerous situations--especially those that might endanger my children. In the process, I have been accused of being unfun in various situations; but for each weird choice I make, I can provide them with data about someone who did the thing they want to do and was harmed (yes, this is the endless song of the worried mother). But I like to think that science is backing me up here, and that my brain is wired to make decisions in protective mode.
Critics of worriers (and there are many) say that we allow worry to affect the quality of our lives, and that we don't live to the fullest. However, science may suggest that while I might never encourage my children to take huge risks for the sake of potentially enjoyable rewards, I may also be helping to assure that they are on the earth longer, and that they can find their bliss via the safe route. :)