Three Ways Anxiety Is Your Best Friend

Learn the three top reasons to honor and respect your anxiety.

Posted Aug 19, 2018

No one enjoys feeling anxious. Yet the experience of anxiety can be protective and life preserving. Just as physical pain tells us to get our hand out of the fire, our fear tells us—once we’ve been burned—to be cautious about fire the next time around.  

Here’s the top three ways anxiety keeps us safe and alive.

1. Anxiety is a warning sign that can stop you from doing something stupid. I remember hearing a sad story about a young man who was killed while whitewater rafting. Word had it that he used a raft that must have been a K-Mart Blue Light Special, and ran an intense rapid that was beyond his level of expertise. A friend of mine, a skilled outdoorswoman, told me he died because he didn't respect the water, meaning he wasn’t sufficiently afraid. Or perhaps he felt the fear and did it anyway.

2. Fear—if we attend to it—can also protect us as we navigate the rapids of personal relationships. It can signal that we are about to do too much, too soon. You may feel a prickle of dread as you contemplate confronting your sister, because the time is not right to do so. Perhaps, in order to proceed wisely and well, you need to slow down or make a new plan. You may feel like a coward when your anxiety pushes you to choose silence over speech, or restraint over action. Yet in many circumstances, silence and restraint are the wiser, more courageous choices.

3. Our anxiety can signal us to protect those we love. Perhaps you should trust your gut that something is, indeed, wrong with your baby, even though two different doctors have told you that nothing is wrong, and that you’re just an anxious, overprotective mom. Maybe you do tend to worry excessively—but you still may be right. The fact that you’re anxious about your child’s health may push you to persevere in a medical system that is shaming you for doing so.

Of course, our anxiety is hard to decipher. Are we feeling afraid because we are boldly charting new territory or because we are about to do something stupid? It’s worthwhile to better understand how anxiety and fear operate as both friend and foe, so we can use our emotions to act wisely and well. But keep in mind that any species that failed to register anxiety would fail to survive.