'Pessimism is sometimes the best medicine - we must be prepared for the worst'

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Rachael says telling a worrier to stop worrying is useless (Stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)
Rachael says telling a worrier to stop worrying is useless (Stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)

I am a born pessimist and worrying is second nature to me.

When faced with a problem my mind always races to the worst-case scenario before returning to the likely one. It irritates more ­optimistic friends – particularly the Pollyannas who see silver linings in every passing cloud while sipping from their half-full glasses.

Because I’m checking the weather app warning it’s about to bucket down while my glass is always down to the dregs and very probably cracked. “Stop worrying,” they say. “It might never happen.” “Try and live in the moment.” “Que sera, sera.”

I know they think it’s bad for my health, and studies suggest that optimistic women do live longer than fretters. But telling a worrier to “just stop worrying” is futile. And now, officially, the worst bit of advice you can give.

It tops a new poll of terrible life tips – just ahead of other tropes like “fight fire with fire”, “forgive and forget” and “marry for security”. Research carried out by an investment app shows 95% of Brits think that they give great advice.

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But 37% also claim to have fallen out with someone after taking advice that went pear-shaped. So at least if my fretting does finish me off I’ll only have myself to blame! I don’t think it will, though. Having suffered from depression on and off for 20 years I know when worrying becomes problematic, veering towards stress and anxiety.

And I genuinely think that normal worry is positive – a protective, preventative, motivating force. If forewarned means forearmed, then foreworrying must give you a huge advantage. It’s why I wasn’t as freaked out as the Pollyannas by the National Risk Register’s new list of the 89 key threats facing Britain.

It makes for grim reading: another pandemic which could kill 840,000 people; chemical, biological or nuclear attacks; drought; flooding; high-level assassinations; volcanic eruptions; severe space weather and, erm, “a major outbreak of African horse sickness”.

But the whole point of highlighting these worst-case scenarios is to ensure the Government and other agencies have plans in place to deal with them. Covid taught us to expect the unexpected and showed us the dangers of not being prepared.

But as Matt Collins, the UK’s deputy national security advisor, says: “A comprehensive understanding of the risks we face is critical to keeping the UK safe.” There’s an old Chinese proverb that says you can’t stop the birds or worry flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair. It doesn’t mean chasing them out of your garden completely – or ignoring the sound of their call.

Rachael Bletchly

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