The Upside of Anxiety: 5 Ways It Helps Us Be Our Best Selves

There are some healthy aspects of anxiety.

Posted Mar 15, 2018

Anxiety can certainly destroy the hearts and minds of many among us. It can be debilitating and make getting through the day and the many tasks it entails very difficult or even impossible. Anxiety can immobilize and paralyze even the most talented and persistent among us. Sometimes it is chronic. For others it sneaks up and rears its exhausting head when we are taking a test or simply trying to be social. It can lead to avoidance, poor performance and overwhelming stress levels. All of those who suffer from anxiety disorders have their own personal stories to tell. And they are tales of perspiring when trying to get through a difficult moment; avoiding an important meeting because of a fear of falling apart and/or abruptly exiting a situation because of a fear of losing control. The stories are endless and heartbreaking. I know. I have listened to you, your children and perhaps even your neighbors speak about how anxiety can destroy a moment, a day or even a life.

We can all agree that excessive amounts of anxiety have nothing good to offer and are certainly not welcome visitors in our lives. On the other hand, we all need a bit of anxiety to live the best lives possible. I have seen how just the right amount of anxiety or the sweet spot of anxiety can enhance a life and the lives of those around us. Psychologists refer to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which suggests that we need just the right amount of arousal/anxiety to perform optimally. With either too little or too much anxiety we are not able to perform at an optimal level. We need to find the sweet spot on an individual basis. It varies for each of us. And, it is certainly no easy task to calibrate our anxiety levels.

Please bear with me as I identify what anxiety has to offer on the positive side. I am offering my perspective after observing individuals in my consultation room and in all other arenas of my life for over several decades. Please stay with me even if you are feeling a bit skeptical. Perhaps you will find what I have to say a bit heartening. Anxiety is not always your enemy.

1. Those of us with some anxiety tend to think before we act. We very carefully consider the effects of our behavior on others. I will take this a few steps further.  A bit of anxiety likely protects your sensitive child from becoming a bully and hurting classmates and peers. We are significantly more likely to be empathic. Those among us with with little to no anxiety are unlikely to consider the more sensitive feelings of others. You may not agree but please stop and give this some thought. You may come to the conclusion that raising anxiety-free kids should not be a goal.

2. A bit of anxiety prevents us from taking potentially dangerous risks. And, that is a good thing, yes? It would certainly not be a good thing to approach the world as a totally safe place because it simply is not a danger-free zone.

3. Anxiety can and does motivate us to get things done. We show up on time. We cross items off our to-do lists. We go to the doctor when we are concerned about health issues. Yes, maybe we get stressed but a little bit of stress is not a bad thing either. It is the excessive amounts of stress that are problematic but you certainly knew that,didn't you?

4. Anxiety and guilt tend to be bedfellows. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of guilt if it makes us think about how our behavior might affect the functioning and feelings of those in our lives. I am not applauding high levels of guilt which lead to shame and embarrassment. I am referring to the little bit of guilt that might prevent us from doing something like gossiping, saying something insensitive etc.

5. Those of us who carry just the right amount of anxiety tend to be better prepared for the next test, the next presentation, the next day and even life in general. You see, the anxious among us do not fly by the seat of our pants. We tend not to wing it. Perhaps, a bit of spontaneity might serve us well but it doesn't come easy to us. Yep, we are too busy preparing!