Anxiety Isn’t All Bad

You can learn to use anxiety to improve your performance and happiness.

Posted Sep 11, 2014

Anxiety and stress might not be the most pleasant experiences - but that’s only because of your negative perception of them. In fact, if you choose to use anxiety and stress in a proactive way they can actually help you perform, as well as make decisions in your life which are more likely to lead to your happiness. This in turn will make you feel less anxious, not only in the moment but also in the long term. Now you might be asking yourself, how on earth do you actually go about using your anxiety in a more positive way?

Anxiety isn't all bad

The first step is to acknowledge that anxiety is inevitable however its effects are not. Anxiety shows that you care about what you’re doing and it’s when you forget about why you care that you start to struggle with the negative effects of stress. Shawn Achor’s work with businesses has found that simply by embracing a “stress is enhancing” mindset can reduce fatigue symptoms (such as headaches and tiredness) by 23% in one week. If you learn to welcome anxiety rather than trying to suppress it you can use it in a better way. Stop stressing about stressing and don’t obsess over the negative effects stress can bring you. Replace this with the "stress is enhancing" mindset by welcoming the following conclusions from research studies:

  • Stress can help you focus on the task in hand because your perspective narrows on the situation that’s stressing you.
  • Stress has the power to build your mental and physical resilience because it makes you tougher, helps you create deeper social bonds and strengthens your belief in your priorities.
  • Stress results in the release of growth hormones that help enhance your immunity and rebuild cells.

The second step is to choose to interpret the objective facts in your external world in a more constructive way. What does that actually mean? Your brain naturally takes a shortcut to create your perception of the world, yet you rarely take time to stop and check in with yourself to see if this perception is accurate and helpful. See if you can look at the situation from a different angle to get a more balanced view of the situation. Ask yourself these kinds of questions to get a more holistic view of the challenge:

  • Is this way of looking at the challenge (or whatever it is that’s causing you anxiety) the most helpful in getting me through this?
  • If I turned this challenge upside down, what would it look like?
  • If my friend was in the same situation, what would I say to her to help her look at the challenge from a different angle?

Last but not least, replace the anxiety provoking viewpoint of the situation with a viewpoint that helps you move forward. Shawn Achor refers to this as the "most valuable reality". Think about which viewpoint ticks the following three boxes, and then use it to get through your anxiety and overcome the challenge that's on front of you:

  • Which viewpoint is the most valid and true?
  • Which viewpoint is the most helpful in getting you towards the best outcome?
  • Which viewpoint is the most positive and growth producing?

I encourage you to welcome the idea that anxiety and stress can be performance enhancers if you choose to approach them in the right way. I urge you to test the tools above as they can be really powerful in helping you move forward from challenging situations in a more proactive way. Last but not least, I want to leave you with a quote by William Shakespeare:

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

You can find more performance and happiness enhancing tips from Susanna Halonen by signing up to a free weekly newsletter on her Happyologist business blog.