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Anxiety: Your Superpower

December 15, 2019 George Abitante

Can anxiety be a superpower? I've used many of my articles to share positive takes on anxiety to help my readers relate to their anxiety in a healthier and more productive way. I often bring up the idea that anxiety is part of your body's efforts to keep you safe and thus is not something to be afraid of. Today, however, I wanted to discuss a more concrete aspect of anxiety that I believe can be beneficial when used correctly. Would you believe me if I told you anxiety can be used as a superpower? I would definitely be doubtful, but stick with me another minute and let's see if I can convince you.

An Anxiety Superpower: Time Travel

Take a moment to think about the single most anxiety-producing thought about some upcoming event or situation you're concerned about. Stay in it for just a few seconds, thinking about where you are, who's around you, and what you're doing. How did that feel? I'm guessing it wasn't great, but you've also just used a remarkable superpower: time travel.

OK, so it's not literally time travel, but let's think about what you've just done in more detail. You identified a fear or concern you have about the future, you simulated how you would feel in that future scenario, and you generated details about what that future would look like. Your anxiety has allowed you to identify a potentially challenging future event and simulate what that event may be like. 

If you already do this, you may not think it's much of a superpower. When we anticipate stressful events in the future and ruminate on them, it drains our energy, makes us feel worse, and can even leave us less capable of handling that event when it arrives. This is not much of a superpower. The key is in how you use it. When you engage with these thoughts of the future in a positive manner, they can actually be used effectively to help you feel more comfortable and prepared for the future. Rather than viewing these fears as frightening intrusions, we can shift our thinking to consider them as opportunities to practice facing what we're afraid of. This change in perspective is difficult to attain, however, so below I'm sharing three ways you can engage with these thoughts in a positive manner so that you make full use of your time travel superpower. 

Use Your Anxiety Superpowers to Positively Engage with the Future

  1. Progressive imagery. When you imagine the future, you can effectively engage in exposure to the event you're worried about. Just like with exposure therapy, you don't want to start with the most frightening situation possible, so try to build the situation in your mind slowly. Start with a simple image. For example, if you're worried about public speaking, start by imagining walking onto the stage and just imagine the stage, nothing else. Build up to imagining people there, where lights are, what you'll say, and other details that you may be concerned about. 
  2. Positive self-talk. As you imagine the event, it's important to generate positive thoughts. Rather than getting swept up by anxiety about the event, build yourself up with comments that help you feel confident and calm. Begin each of these sessions with encouraging, relaxing words that remind you that you are safe. 
  3. Practice, practice, practice. The more you engage with feared events positively, the easier it will be to engage with them in reality. In the same way that you need to practice skills many times to become proficient, you also need to practice these events to feel more comfortable. You will feel less anxious about the event as you continue your progression of imagery and positivity, and this will allow you to eventually face it. 

These tips are a good starting point for using anxiety to prepare for events you're scared of. I hope you will consider the value of your anxiety and use the tips here to build yourself up and become stronger for whatever it is you're worried about. Please share your experiences and thoughts about anxiety as a superpower below! 

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2019, December 15). Anxiety: Your Superpower, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2019/12/anxiety-your-superpower



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
December, 16 2019 at 12:55 pm

Yahoo!! What an awesome concept. This is one of those game-changer, perspective shifts that are so powerful! I love this, "engage with feared events positively", this is so huge. If we can take that perceived and break it down, as you suggest with public speaking we can give ourselves such a powerful tool. Wonderful read.

December, 17 2019 at 8:36 pm

Hi Lizanne,
Thanks for your comment, so glad you enjoyed it! It's definitely a 180 to start thinking of anxiety as an advantage rather than something to be afraid of!
George

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