Can anxiety be a good thing? Short answer- yes. We often hear about the negative aspects of anxiety, many individuals with anxiety describe it as a feeling of nervousness and dread that can be distracting at best and all-consuming at worst. Anxiety is typically experienced on many levels, affecting your emotions, physical body, and thought patterns. However, humans were designed specifically with these emotions and sensations as a survival aid and to help us interact with out surroundings. Understanding the natural functions and benefits of our “anxious” emotions can help us accept and make friends with the way anxiety is trying to help us and regulate the ways in which it is overacted and working against us.
- Anxiety as a Warning Sign
Our brains are hard-wired to notice our surroundings and react to the stimuli we encounter . Most of the time this is a subconscious behavior. For example- how many times have you been driving in your car, going somewhere you go often, possibly talking on the phone or listening to a podcast. You arrive at your destination safely- having followed all the traffic rules and going an acceptable speed- without being fully alert and engaged the entire drive there. That is because our brains are constantly aware of our surroundings and adjusting and correcting at all times. If on that same drive, a car was going the wrong way in your lane, your brain would automatically register the threat and you physically feel body sensations and alertness warning you to react. This anxiety is a warning sign, functioning to bring awareness to a potential danger and keep you safe. Without this natural tendency we would constantly be in danger.
This works in other situations too- perhaps you have been feeling unsettled at work or in a relationship. Tune into the anxious feelings you are experiencing and notice if there is something that if off track that needs adjusted or addressed. Your brain may be trying to tell you something.
2. Anxiety as Motivation
Research has shown that students and athletes who experienced some anxiety actually displayed improved performance on tests or while participating in competitive sports. Additionally, some degree of anxiety in those who have a good working memory may actually enhance performance on cognitive tests.
Consider ways that your anxiety creates an incentive for you to be successful in some areas of your life.
For instance, perhaps your anxiety assists you in putting extra effort into work or personal tasks, making a good impression, or moving towards your goals. When considering your own anxiety, try to think of ways that you can use it to inspire your growth and self-improvement.
3. Anxiety can keep you in tune with your body
Its common that people with anxiety experience a multitude of sensations and symptoms in their physical bodies. Understanding these symptoms and the reasons they exist can be really helpful understanding the ways in which your body is trying to signal you and help you. For example: its common that during heighted episodes of anxiety someone will experience dizziness, disconnection from reality, tingly or cold hands, and a difficulty concentrating. This happens because your body is re-distributing the blood flow to your brain and hands and feet into your muscles to prepare you to flee danger.
Stomach problems such as nausea or upset stomach are also due to blood flow being redirected to other parts of the body . Functions like digestion and hunger are low priority systems if the body is feeling threatened.
Heart racing, breathing changes and shakiness is the result of your body taking in extra oxygen (hyperventilating) and breathing out carbon monoxide. You heart beats faster to supply more oxygenated blood to your organs to fuel you up for battle. Your body also releases epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) to power you up to fight.
4. Anxiety as a positive character trait
People with anxiety may be skilled in leadership roles and may be more empathetic and caring friends. Those that are living with a heightened sense of anxiety may be more aware of other feelings and therefore be more empathetic to the needs of others. Additionally, people with anxiety typically take extra time to think through scenarios and outcomes – making them great problem solvers.
Understanding all the ways in which anxiety symptoms are informing the body and working towards a goal is important in normalizing the anxiety responses you encounter. Despite these positive functions, anxiety can be a big road block to experiencing your full potential of joy. If anxiety is standing in your way of living your life it may be time to schedule an appointment with a therapist. A therapist and help you learn tools to manage the responses and lower the negative affects of anxiety. A therapist can also help you pinpoint the triggers and roots of anxiety and reprocess those events so that you aren’t so reactive to these situations.