You've probably realized that the things you worry about rarely come true. Results from a recent study show just how unlikely most of our worries actually are.
Researchers at Penn State University had participants write down their specific worries for ten days whenever they noticed they were worrying. All participants had generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is characterized by pervasive and uncontrollable worry along with other symptoms (e.g., problems with concentration or sleep). Four times a day, they were prompted by text message to record any worries from the past two hours, to ensure that as many worries were captured as possible.
Study participants then reviewed their list of worries every evening over the next 30 days to see if any of them came true. The researchers focused on worries that could be tested in the 30-day period; for example, “I will fail my math exam tomorrow” would be testable, whereas “I’ll develop cancer at some point in my lifetime” would not. The average person reported three to four testable worries per day.
The result? A whopping 91 percent of worries were false alarms. And of the remaining 9 percent of worries that did come true, the outcome was better than expected about a third of the time. For about one in four participants, exactly zero of their worries materialized.