Use Anxiety to Your Advantage
Throughout my life, I've been known to be a worrier. To be honest, “worrier” is a bit of an understatement. Better descriptors of my worry are generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. I've lost countless hours of sleep and taken enjoyment out of the most joyful activities simply by worrying and ruminating. Why didn't I do this? Why did I say that? What if this happens? What if that doesn't happen? At one point in my life this was quite problematic for my well-being. Happily, I've overcome this. Of course anxiety flares, and it does it pretty frequently. What’s different now is that I've learned to use anxiety to my advantage. It’s a very effective strategy that you might want to have in your anxiety-fighting toolbox.
Anxiety definitely makes us obsess about things, and we often fret over what we should have done differently in the past or agonize about horrible things that might happen in the future. This can happen to such a degree that it nearly paralyzes us. There are things we can do, though, to avoid anxiety paralysis.
Anxiety is a Tool We Can Use for Change
In many counseling approaches, including crisis intervention, anxiety is used as a powerful tool. We can use the discomfort and distress anxiety causes to propel us into action and begin to take healthy risks to make positive changes in our lives. The desired change can even be reducing anxiety. We can use anxiety to make it get rid of itself. Take that, anxiety!
Using Anxiety to Your Advantage
Exactly how can we use our anxiety to our advantage? It sounds outlandish, but it indeed is an effective anxiety-reducing tool. The underlying principle is that anxiety has a purpose: to cause enough distress within us that we want, need, to make changes. It doesn't matter what the change is. Whether it’s a change of job, relationship, overcoming anxiety, depression, or other mental health struggles, or any other needed life change, we experience anxiety when something in our lives doesn't feel right. Think of anxiety as a warning signal, a call to action.
Anxiety has Called. How Do You Answer?
Some ways to use anxiety to your advantage:
- Start by listening to your anxiety. When my mind races with worry, I breathe deeply and focus on what’s running through my head. Look for patterns. What worries do you keep coming back to? This is an area you might want to consider acting on. Worried about an interaction with a boss or a friend? Perhaps you want to make changes going forward.
- Look at anxiety like a teacher. Anxiety is notorious for making us beat ourselves up, rehashing every past mistake. Instead of letting this happen, look at these obsessive worries as teaching points for what you want to do differently next time around.
- Make a list. What do you want to be different going forward? What little changes can you begin to make immediately to get to where you want to be? Anxiety feels horrible, but what it’s doing is giving us motivation to change.
- Don't forget what's right. Don’t forget to consider not just the anxieties but what is going right and what went right in the past. What do you want to continue to do more of?
As miserable as anxiety can be, sometimes it’s helpful to think of it as a useful motivator deep within, alerting us to something we want to change and making us feel off kilter enough that we take positive action.
NCC, T. (2014, July 16). Use Anxiety to Your Advantage, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/07/use-anxiety-to-your-advantage
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
As always, I welcome you and your comments. You raise excellent points, and I especially like your insight that people shouldn't have to feel like victims and that strengthening skills by using anxiety as an opportunity for growth. And yes, good professional help is very important. Thank you for your thoughts!
I suffered with horrible anxiety until I was 49. Then I discovered Neurofeedback and I have been free from chronic anxiery for 18 months.
There is no comparison. There is nothing like being free from the negative/ruminating machine that I was.
Truly a sad post if you think managing a tiger is better than just letting it go back to Africa and be free from it.
I appreciate your comment. How wonderful that you discovered a technique that cured you of your anxiety. Neurofeedback can indeed be extremely helpful to many people. Freeing the tiger is absolutely the goal for anyone seeking to be free from anxiety; however, letting that tiger go can be a process. Finding ways to manage anxiety as one works toward freedom is very important. Congratulations on freeing your tiger!