Anxiety Has a Purpose; Know It and Beat Anxiety
Thursday, June 9 2016 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
If asked what purpose anxiety has in their lives, people's answers might range from "absolutely nothing" to "torturing me and ruining my life." Admittedly, it often feels like anxiety exists for no other reason than to torment us. Further, if we try to find a point to our anxiety, we frequently come up with nothing. Believe it or not, though, anxiety frequently does have a purpose. Discovering it can help you beat anxiety.
Beyond Causes, Anxiety Has a Purpose
We humans are sophisticated creatures with complex brains. Our brains are scientific and methodical and, from the most primitive part to the most advanced, function with a purpose: to keep us alive.
Sometimes, though, the brain's methods leave something to be desired. The brain is susceptible to injury and illness, and the brain is also, well, human. Due to the brain's human nature, it's subject to faulty thinking and imperfect emotions. Sometimes, the brain's way of preserving us is to go into anxiety overdrive (Anxiety: It's in Your Head [Your Brain]!).
Anxiety has numerous causes involving thoughts, feelings, learned behaviors, past events, chemical imbalances, and more. Yes, anxiety has multiple causes, but once it exists, what is anxiety's purpose? Determining the purpose of your anxiety will allow you to beat anxiety by addressing that purpose.
Four Common Purposes of Anxiety
Sometimes the brain becomes anxious. When anxiety sticks around, it's frequently for a reason. Among the purposes of anxiety, these four are common:
Protection. A function of anxiety is to protect us from harm. If we're a bit worried and thus on alert, vigilant for people or places that might hurt us, we stay safe. Anxiety's role in protecting us is a good one. When we become hypervigilant and fearful, though, isolating ourselves from the world to avoid danger, anxiety's purpose of protection has gone too far.
Motivation. Wanting to do well on something important to you. These are great qualities. Anxiety is at work here, helping us sustain that drive for success by adding a splash of worry and fear just enough to keep us on our toes. However, when drive becomes intense performance anxiety or perfectionism, anxiety has gone too far.
Growth and Development: Having a degree of anxiety can help spur personal growth. Anxiety about what's going on in our current life and worrying a bit about the future can help propel us out of our comfort zone. Anxiety can help us discover what we want to change, and then give us the motivation to do it. Sometimes, though, anxiety takes root and makes us stuck in rumination and worry. When that happens, anxiety has gone too far.
Love and Belonging. Love and belonging are among the basic human needs. Anxiety can help us meet them by helping us stay connected to others. Fearing loneliness, worrying about harm coming to someone we love motivate us to care and connect. Yet this type of anxiety, like the others, can spiral out of control and interfere in our relationships and functioning. When this happens, anxiety has gone too far.
Know Anxiety's Purpose, Beat Anxiety
When you recognize the purpose of your anxiety, you can reduce anxiety by addressing that purpose. Here's how:
Tune into your anxiety. Notice when you experience it.
Listen to it. What, specifically, is it telling you? What else is going on? What are you thinking and feeling?
Analyze the purpose. Why do think you feel anxious? What is anxiety's function right now?
Rate the purpose. Is anxiety really valid in the situation? If so, is your anxiety going too far? How necessary is your anxiety right now?
When you begin to acknowledge that anxiety does have a purpose, you can step back and determine if the purpose is valid or if anxiety is going too far. Then, work on your thoughts about what is making you anxious. Gradually, you'll teach your brain that there's no need to go into anxiety overdrive (Five Solution-Focused Ways to Beat Anxiety).