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

We don't have to remain paralyzed by anxiety. Instead, we can use anxiety to our advantage, listening to it and letting it help guide positive 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.

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2014, July 16). Use Anxiety to Your Advantage, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Dr Musli Ferati
July, 24 2014 at 12:49 am

Among multitude approaching to face with anxiety as common emotional disturbance, your suggestion exhibits great opportunity.For me as expert of mental health service, these psycho-social undertakings offer useful tool to treat and manage patient with anxiety. In other words,to accept anxiety as favor implicit an effective way to improve personal lifel skills. Through these advantages we would soften emotional concerns and reinforce our pallid life abilities, in the same time. Summarily, I can say that is necessary to have active attitude toward anxiety disorders, in order to get rid of many emotional and psychic implications, as well. Otherwise, we would become victims of dreadful personal experiences with bad consequences in our global function and psychosocial development, at any way. However, it ought to take into consideration that competent professional psychiatric treatment is precede any form of anxiety. This remark didn't except any form of psycho-social intervention, on the contrary it present crucial element of current psychiatric treatment of anxiety.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 24 2014 at 7:04 pm

Hello Dr. Ferati,
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!

Mitzi MacBain
July, 19 2014 at 8:27 pm

Ong what a crock! If you were free from anxiety you would realize how silly your post is.
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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 21 2014 at 11:51 am

Hi Mitzi,
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!

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