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The Importance of Being Anxious

June 16, 2019 George Abitante

The importance of being anxious? Alright, I get what you're thinking -- George made a mistake in his title. Who really thinks it's important to have anxiety, right? Well, to my surprise (and likely yours too), I've realized that anxiety is the best teacher, and knowing how to learn without anxiety is actually one of the most important skills you can develop if "being anxious" is what you do. 

Being Anxious Helps You Learn 

Imagine you're finishing up psychotherapy for anxiety. You're feeling way better, your mood is great, you barely feel anxious at all anymore. Great, end of story. Let's say you're not experiencing any new stressors, so you haven't been anxious at all, and four months go by in a blink. Then you realize you have a huge work project, or you're moving, or some other significant life event is happening, and boom -- your anxiety is back. Well, you might say that's no big deal since you've learned a lot of tools for handling anxiety, and in some ways, you'd be right.

But here's the problem: you just spent four months without practicing those tools. So now you're being anxious but you haven't cultivated your coping responses for a while, so they're rusty. The stressor that might've been a three out of 10 immediately after therapy is now a seven out of 10, and you're left with a significant challenge after what seemed like a delightful vacation from worrying. Here's what's so interesting about anxiety: even though it is something you want to avoid, its presence is what enables you to learn coping skills. Without being anxious, you've nothing to remind you of what you need to practice and it's actually really difficult to maintain those skills. Below you'll find three strategies for keeping up your coping skills even when you're not anxious. 

3 Ways to Maintain Coping Skills for Being Anxious

  1. Make new reminders. The single best way to keep up your coping skills is to develop reminders for yourself (other than anxiety) to keep practicing. This might mean setting calendar reminders or making a new habit to practice your skills every morning, for example. The key is to keep practicing even when you're not anxious. 
  2. Practice when you're experiencing little anxiety. Sometimes it's easiest to practice coping skills when your anxiety is at a peak, but it can be beneficial to practice even when you're experiencing just a little anxiety too. Instead of waiting for big anxious moments, start using little fluctuations in your anxiety as opportunities for practice. 
  3. Test yourself. Anxiety can fluctuate based on the experiences we have, and there are times where it can be beneficial to do something a little bit out of your comfort zone to use your coping skills. Taking a small step beyond what you normally do can be a great way to improve your coping tools and extend your limits just a little bit. 

It takes a lot of practice to work through being anxious and even more practice to maintain those improvements. Use these tips to help yourself maintain the improvements you make at any stage of your journey with anxiety and live your best life. Thanks for reading and please share other tips you have below. 

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2019, June 16). The Importance of Being Anxious, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2019/6/the-importance-of-being-anxious



Author: George Abitante

George is a Master's Student in Clinical Psychology at Northwestern University and is focused on improving the efficacy and accessibility of treatments for depression and anxiety. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
says:
June, 17 2019 at 12:56 pm
I love this idea! What a cool flip. I often talk about anxiety and depression are actually both guidelines and teachers. It's so empowering to have this kind of "step back" perspective and see how it can be a helping hand. Thanks for sharing.
June, 17 2019 at 1:09 pm
Hi Lizanne, thanks so much for your comment! It's great to hear you discuss anxiety as a teacher, awesome idea. It can be hard to think of something aversive as protective or a teacher, but it totally changes the narrative once you do!

George

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