Anxiety Can Help You; Here’s How
Anxiety can help you. Really. We see anxiety as a lot of things – a disease, a nuisance, a foe, even a monster. But most people wouldn’t think of it as a messenger, and I’d bet almost no one sees it as a helper but read on to learn how anxiety can help you.
Helping is essentially anxiety’s job. Anxiety is the nervous system’s way of keeping us alive. It alerts us of imminent danger and lets us know when something scares us. What other unmistakable force would drive us out of a burning building or away from someone who wanted to hurt us?
The Problem with Thinking Anxiety Helps You
The truth is, anxiety doesn’t feel like a helpful messenger. It feels like hell. This is why it’s so easy to just snap when anxiety hits. We either run from the situation and distract ourselves as best we can or try to fight whatever it is that’s scaring the crap out of us. Neither of these reactions reduce anxiety or heal the cause of anxiety. In many cases, people think they know why anxiety plagues them, but they really don’t.
The Problem with ‘Helpful’ Anxiety
I had a friend who suffered from panic attacks. I too used to experience them, but after a couple of years, I learned how to phase them out. She, however, continued having them with increasing intensity. Her episodes were always demanding something new. For example, one month she would be too nervous to drive, fearing an accident would occur. Another year, she might be afraid to travel out of town and avoided taking trips. Other times, it was bridges or planes that got her feeling frantic.
Clearly, my friend’s quality of life was diminished by her panic. I never quite understood why until one day when I actually got to witness one of her episodes. Our friend had gotten a flat tire, and everyone had to pile into one vehicle. In the backseat, she held a friend’s hand and asked that no one mention any of the topics that were bringing her anxiety. She had a big comfy pillow on her lap, though it was clearly there for protection rather than comfort. I started to notice all of these little necessities – these requirements she had to keep the feelings at bay. She was padding herself against her anxiety, as if it were an attacker.
It may seem like common sense to protect ourselves vigilantly, avoiding anything that could intensify our already-intense emotions. But in reality, we have to do the opposite. We have to get brave and direct. We have to meet anxiety face to face and ask calmly, “What’s really going on here?”
Certainly, car rides can turn dangerous, but is that really what she was fearing? If so, why did her panic always shift to new situations?
Trying to Explain that Anxiety Can Help
The things we’re afraid of are representations of deeper, survival-based fears. We’re not really afraid of airplanes, we’re afraid of death. We’re not really afraid of social settings; we’re afraid of rejection. We’re not really afraid of elevators; we’re afraid of getting trapped.
Though I tried to explain this to my friend, she didn’t seem very receptive or open to inviting her anxiety in for the message it wanted to deliver. As she avoided and tensed in its presence, it got worse. It became more intent on delivering the message – “You’re afraid! Stop ignoring it.”
Often, the message includes even more information, but we can’t know what it is if we won’t even accept the fear.
Once We Pay Attention, Anxiety Can Help Us
Once we truly start believing that our anxiety is here to make us pay attention, ask ourselves questions, and practice self-care, it loosens its grip. While we may have a legitimate fear, such as a fear of dying, there’s no reason to be afraid of anxiety itself. Anxiety comes from your nervous system. It’s not an attacker, and it can’t hurt you. It wants you to become more self-aware so you can heal.
This post was written by:
Brianna Johnson runs Exist Better, a blog that delves into the nitty-gritty of mental health, exploring emotions, beliefs, and cultural constructs to help readers reach self-empowerment.
Author, G. (2018, October 4). Anxiety Can Help You; Here’s How, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/yourmentalhealth/2018/10/anxiety-can-help-you-heres-how