Anxiety: Can It Really Help Us?

December 2, 2011 Jack Smith

The Time magazine headline splashed across the cover of the Dec. 5 edition snatched me to attention. “Why Anxiety is Good For You,” the cover screamed.

The gist of the article is this: Anxiety can sharpen our senses and motivate us to move faster. Or it can paralyze us.

So why write about anxiety in a blog about depression? I suffer from both, and usually bouts with depression come when I am or have been anxious about something.

Distinguishing Between the Types of Anxiety

The in-depth Time article goes through the history of anxiety, reaching back to the 5th Century B.C., when Hippocrates said good health is the balance of four “humors,” and then to 1895, when Freud made a distinction between “real” anxiety and “neurotic anxiety.”

My understanding of real anxiety is it’s the kind of fear one would feel if a black bear showed up in the back yard. Neurotic anxiety is the type that tortures some of us who worry about every little thing, even things that will never happen in a million years.

It’s interesting that a chart in the article shows us that our performance can rapidly increase with the onset of stress. If we manage it properly, it can motivate us and help us work faster and more effectively. The problem happens when the anxiety reaches a level of quickly diminishing returns. Then it becomes harder to concentrate and perform, resulting in eventual exhaustion and almost certain paralysis.

Managing Anxiety

So how do we manage that stress and rein in that anxiety? My therapist has taught me some cognitive behavioral techniques to help slow it down. She tells me not to jerk it back but gently bind it. I try and do that by asking myself some basic questions. Is what I’m worried about really going to happen? Even if it does happen—and often times it doesn’t—what would the consequences be?

Another therapist I saw years ago put it this way: Play out the twisted fantasy in your head until its logical conclusion. For example, if I’m worried I might screw something up at work, what would really happen? Would I really get fired or publicly humiliated over one little mistake? The answer is usually an emphatic no!
Dr. Oz writes a sidebar feature that accompanies the Time article. Since he’s an expert and clearly am not, let me offer a few of his tips.
• If you are worried about an event, meeting or presentation, get there early. It will give you mind time to acclimate.
• Eat a balanced diet, loading up on omega 3 fatty acids. Stay away from junk food.
• Learn to recognize your stress triggers and figure out how to avoid them (a good example for me personally is procrastination, another is having a hard time saying “no” to an invitation).
• Exercise. Surprise! Exercise is good for anxiety as well.
It’s as simple as that. The hard part is actually sticking to those tips for good mental health.

APA Reference
Smith, J. (2011, December 2). Anxiety: Can It Really Help Us?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 20 from

Author: Jack Smith

Dr Musli Ferati
May, 21 2012 at 7:26 pm

My instant response to this provoking question is "Yes". It is essentially to develop psycho-social skills in order to manage in satisfying manner real and /or imaginary life problems. In this direction, there are many expectancy and unforeseen events that burden our psychic apparatus. All these events causes, along time, an irritable emotional state, that concisely is called an anxiety psychic condition. otherwise, this feeling state is normal and health mental situation. Only then, when this emotional condition interrupt our global life functioning, should to seek psychiatric help, that give hope for successful treatment.

December, 6 2011 at 6:55 am

You've got it in one. Couldn't have put it better.

Angela E. Gambrel
December, 3 2011 at 7:26 am

Anxiety is common in people with eating disorders, and I have struggled with it for years. I appreciate your tips, as they can be applied by anyone who suffers from anxiety. I particularly like your example about asking yourself questions to reduce the "all-or-nothing" thinking.
Two other tips I would like to share is simple breathing and listening to soothing music. On Thanksgiving, I had a panic attack when I thought about all the food I was going to face, and I was ready to give in to the anxiety and cancel my plans for the day. Instead, I told myself to be very still and just breathe - without thinking about anything. That is very hard for me, but it worked in this case and the panic eventually subside. I also find that when the anxiety starts to rise that if I put on certain music, it will start to go down. I happen to listen to Gregorian chants for this purpose, but of course, everyone's idea of soothing music is different.
Thank you for all that you write and offer. It is helpful for those of us with other mental illnesses, too, because I think depression and anxiety can be inherent no matter what illness you are struggling with. I have written a number of posts about anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Anyway, keep up the good work!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jack Smith
December, 3 2011 at 8:59 am

Thanks for the tips. Music can certainly elevate mood. Please come again.

December, 3 2011 at 4:10 am

My concern with such an article is the subtle message conveyed by first the headline and then things woven into the text and pictures. Someone can easily be misled to think that chronic worry is just plain normal and we" just need to deal with it." Anxiety and depression go together like pb and jelly. Anxiety commonly comes first. Minimize the anxiety and...... here comes the depression.

December, 2 2011 at 5:13 am

Thanks Jack. Good timing for me, as the past couple of days have been really rough. Though I wonder if, for me, the thoughts precipitate the anxiety or vice versa. Nevertheless, xanax and CBT to the rescue.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jack Smith
December, 2 2011 at 6:09 am

Thanks for stopping by. Come again!

Leave a reply