The Upside of Anxiety

squeezing stress ball

By Alanna Hilbink

It is easy to write off anxiety, stress, and other mental health symptoms as universally “bad” or unwanted. Too much anxiety can have serious consequences on your health and contribute to everything from heart and breathing problems to depression, headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, and more. However, it has been found that some measure of anxiety can actually be good for you. Learning to harness its strength and use it to your advantage could end up putting you ahead of the game, instead of behind in many of life’s circumstances.

Benefits of Anxiety

Anxiety originally developed as part of our fight-or-flight survival instinct. Its purpose? To keep us safe. While this may seem irrelevant in today’s world, a study from Cambridge University Press found that worry played a protective role in reducing the risk of dying from accidental causes in early adult life. Adolescents with higher levels of anxiety had fewer life-threatening accidents and injuries than their peers, as their anxiety gave them a stronger awareness of their surroundings and better prepared them for potential outcomes. Anxiety can also help you to think of alternative solutions or plans in situations, so you can be ready for the unexpected.

People who struggle with anxiety also tend to be more motivated to put in the work needed to reach their goals. A desire to move through and past anxiety means taking on uncomfortable situations to reach the other side. The sooner a project starts, the sooner anxiety over the task can come to an end. Anxiety can encourage us to begin work and keep working to finish on time or early. Additionally, it can help us be more conscientious of errors, double-checking our work, and putting more effort and care into everyday tasks. These benefits of anxiety can appear in a personal or professional setting and can lead to a more organized life or successful career.

Anxiety can help a person imagine the world through others’ eyes and allows her or him to be more empathetic, understanding, and aware of others.

Anxiety can also be harnessed for greater creativity. A person with anxiety is always using his or her imagination. While this imagination may seem to revolve mostly around the expectation of negative outcomes, it can be used for good. Anxiety encourages us to explore different approaches to a situation or experience. It lets us see the world in different ways. According to VeryWellMind.com, this can also lead to greater understanding of others and how they may view and experience life. Anxiety can help a person imagine the world through others’ eyes and allows her or him to be more empathetic, understanding, and aware of others.

However, past a certain point, the upside of anxiety begins to decline. It can get in the way of living your life to the fullest and leave you with overwhelming mental and physical symptoms. When anxiety begins to disrupt everyday life or affect your health, it’s time to take steps to making a change.

Negative Thinking’s Harm

So how does a person learn how to combat negative thoughts and balance anxiety? A great place to start is with deep breathing. This is more than just common anecdotal advice for managing mental health. According to NPR’s Life Kit podcast, deep breathing has real and immediate effects on the parasympathetic nervous system. And conveniently, it can be done anywhere, any time. Exercise has a similar simple and immediate effect on neurochemicals and mood. However, a quick brain boost is not always enough.

Learning how to practice positive thinking is another key. Anxiety involves focusing on or expecting bad things. Positive thinking involves expecting good. Getting from one to the other may seem like a big leap, but it doesn’t have to be accomplished in one go. Positive thinking begins with simply taking a moment to reflect. Acknowledging that anxiety is a response to negative thoughts and expectations can help put emotions in context. According to the National Library of Medicine, once anxious thoughts are identified and seen more objectively, you can practice replacing them with something positive. This positive thought doesn’t even have to be related to the original concern as you can create positive thoughts from good memories or favorite experiences to replace the original, unhelpful thinking.

woman with anxiety

Using Anxiety for Good

It’s worth noting that not all anxiety needs to, or should be, replaced or ignored. Anxiety isn’t an enemy. The New York Times suggests that rather than suppressing or fighting anxiety, anxiety should be used as a tool. Another upside of anxiety is that it can reveal when something in life is “off” and needs to be changed. That “something” can range from a job that demands too much, to co-occurring mental health issues, or unresolved past experiences. When these factors are identified and addressed, anxiety can lead to greater enjoyment of life.

It can be hard to see the upside of anxiety while experiencing its symptoms, but we can learn to appreciate anxiety’s benefits while managing its effects.

It can be hard to see the upside of anxiety while experiencing its symptoms, but we can learn to appreciate anxiety’s benefits while managing its effects. For many of us, doing this just takes time and practice. But in some cases, anxiety has become too much and is interrupting your health, happiness, and everyday life. That’s when getting help is vital. The Meadows Malibu is here for you, to come alongside you. We can help you uncover and address the symptoms and causes of your anxiety, so you can learn how to use it for growth and healing instead of harm. Let us help you get back to health and wellness today.