Anxiety is something we dislike. The fear-inducing feeling that defines it is fearsome in itself. Naturally, anxiety carries with it mostly negative connotations: it's very unsettling, and if our anxiety grows too much, it becomes a detriment to our physical and mental health. But for all its nastiness, what if it had some unspoken benefits? What if, in some bizarre way, we could make our anxiety work with us, in our favour, rather than against us?
As an anxiety sufferer who has experienced the full gamut of this affliction - from general jitters to crippling fear - one of the first things you master on the road to managing it is acceptance. I'm an anxious person by default; I'll probably always have a tendency towards it and the more I try to fight against it and run away from it, the worse it gets.
But when you get to a point where it's not interfering with your life too much, the key is to say, 'Okay, I'm managing my anxiety well, how can I make it good?' Well, you learn to channel it. Here are some of the unexpected upsides associated with anxiety.
You're incredibly motivated
If you have anxiety you probably care a LOT, which means when it comes to work, you'll be encouraged to do your best. If you're naturally anxious, you won't sit on your ass for too long, and you'll get things done. Why? Because to leave a stack of things to do would only send your anxious mind into a tizzy; you're super efficient.
According to Charles Linden, CEO of the Linden Centers, “anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.” You might not see this translate into a career as a tortured artist, but “moreover as a distinct range of both physical and mental attributes affecting creativity, emotional sensitivity and clarity, eccentricity, creative energy, and drive.” Think of Frank Sinatra, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham, Adele and more - all incredibly creative and talented people who've battled with anxiety at one point or another.
Scientists believe that worry and intelligence co-evolved in humans as beneficial traits. “While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be. In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”
You feel empathy more than anyone
A natural proclivity for anxiety means you're very good - too good - at putting yourself in other people's shoes. Sometimes this can go against you when you absorb too much of what's around you, but if you're in any sort of job that involves communication with other people, you'll have an added advantage. You'll always be able to see things from another point of view. When friends and loved ones endure hard times, you'll be more understanding than anyone; just try to keep your empathy at a healthy level - you can't solve the problems of the world by yourself and trying to do so will lead to - you guessed it - more anxiety.
You appreciate the simple things
Because you've suffered and felt like crap, your appreciation of the little things - take, for example, a simple, sunny day where there's not too much going on and you're with nice people - skyrockets. You don't need to be endlessly entertained and always chasing the next thing because you're bored. In the calm backwaters of anxiety where it's not affecting your day, you learn to be present and live in the here and now, which is a skill that those without anxiety probably don't feel the need to acquire. My anxiety has taught me to stop chasing the next best thing when what I have right here, right now, is pretty damn good.
Have you noticed any positives to your anxiety?