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4 Reasons Anxiety Can Be Your Friend

Allow anxiety to be your ally.

Key points

  • Anxiety serves important functions such as a source of motivation and an opportunity for reflection.
  • It may be more helpful to focus on regulating your anxiety rather than trying to completely eliminate it.
  • Overcoming anxiety to achieve personal goals is a rewarding experience and a boost to one’s self-esteem.
Marcos Luiz Photograph/Unsplash
Source: Marcos Luiz Photograph/Unsplash

Our family recently celebrated my brother’s wedding. While his sister-in-law was giving a talk about the newlyweds, I felt my heart beat faster and my chest tighten. My mouth dried up and a lump appeared in my throat.

Anxiety decided to make a guest appearance a few minutes before I was about to deliver my talk to the newlyweds.

I could hear my anxiety erupt into a cascade of worry thoughts:

“What if you mess up?”

“What if you forget your lines?”

“What if you sound foolish?”

Thankfully, after years of studying and treating anxiety, I am proficient in managing my own anxiety. I focused on regulating my breathing rate by discretely taking a few slower, deep breaths. As I took a few sips of water, I reminded myself to maintain a healthy perspective by shifting the focus off of my upcoming talk and onto appreciating the moment.

After all, when would I ever have the opportunity to tell my brother how proud I was of him?

When anxiety strikes, it is important to maintain your composure and focus on mobilizing your coping skills. It is not helpful to become frustrated with yourself. Neither is having anxiety about your anxiety. This is the equivalent of throwing gasoline into a fire. It only makes anxiety worse.

Instead of trying to completely eliminate your anxiety, focus on taming it. Viewing your anxiety from a different lens can help.

I often visualize my anxiety as a scared friend who is trying to protect me by warning me of a potential danger. My friend means well. They are trying to help me. The problem is that my friend decides to show up and scream at the top of their lungs at the most inopportune times—like a few minutes before I am about to deliver a talk.

Acknowledging your anxiety and mobilizing your coping skills is the way to go. This can be more feasible by remembering that not all anxiety is bad. Anxiety also comes with potential benefits. Here are four reasons anxiety can be your ally.

1. Motivation to prepare

Anxiety often occurs in anticipation of a future event such as prior to giving a talk, taking an exam, or at the start of the workweek. One benefit of anxiety is that it can motivate you to prepare in advance.

As an example, I experience anxiety before public speaking. To compensate, I always prepare in advance. I usually have my talks memorized and rehearsed multiple times. The time I spend preparing may be considered excessive. However, it gives me peace of mind. When anxiety makes a guest appearance, I don’t have to worry about forgetting my lines. Rather, I focus on calming my anxious friend down and utilizing my coping skills.

2. An opportunity to reflect

There are times when anxiety is disproportionate to a stimulus. Many of our worries are only hypothetical scenarios that never come to fruition. However, there are times when anxiety is warranted and appropriate to the context.

As an example, imagine you are mistreated by a coworker and experience anxiety going into work. Anxiety serves as an impetus to press pause and reflect on how to navigate a challenging situation.

The key is to acknowledge your anxiety rather than resist it. Be curious about the triggers of your anxiety. When you identify a trigger, consider the odds that your fears will become reality and what reasonable steps you can take to problem solve.

3. A source of self-esteem

Anxiety will always tell you why you shouldn’t do something. It will tell you to play things safe and not take any calculated risks. Blindly following your anxiety, without ever questioning it, will ultimately hold you back and prevent you from applying for a job promotion, starting a business, or asking someone on a date.

It takes courage to face your fears and pursue the life you want. Overcoming emotional adversity to achieve personal goals is a rewarding experience and a boost to one’s self-esteem.

4. A reason to be considerate

We often experience anxiety in social settings because we want to make a good impression. The reality is that we care about how we are perceived. Anxiety can serve as an impetus to put your best foot forward and be considerate when interacting with others.

In conclusion, expecting not to experience any anxiety is unrealistic because anxiety serves important functions. The key is to sharpen your coping skills to regulate your anxiety and use it to your advantage.

Finally, if you are experiencing any difficulty with anxiety symptoms, please contact your local healthcare provider or mental health professional for help. In case of a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department. Or, to find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.