6 Potential Benefits to Having Anxiety

The Flip Side - Positive Effects That Anxiety Can Create

Anxiety can be beneficial in some ways.
What are the potential benefits and positive aspects of living with anxiety?. Photo © Micrsoft

We often hear about the negative aspects of anxiety, but could there be any advantages or benefits that come from living with anxiety?

The Feeling of Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling that is often characterized by intense fear, worry, and apprehension. Many anxiety sufferers describe it as a feeling of nervousness and dread that can be distracting at best and all-consuming at worst. Anxiety is typically experienced on many levels, affecting one’s emotions, leading to uncomfortable physical sensations, and contributing to negative thoughts.

Positive Effects of Anxiety

These symptoms of anxiety are a common problem for people who have been diagnosed with any type of anxiety disorder, including panic disorder.  As a panic disorder sufferer, you may be well aware of how anxiety can hinder your life. However, have you ever considered some of the possible positive effects that may come with having anxiety?

Scientists have learned that some degree of stress or anxiety isn't necessarily a bad thing. Good stress, something now referred to now as eustress, keeps us motivated and excited about life. It appears that some degree of anxiety may have similar "silver linings." Let's take a look at what they've been learning.

Anxiety as a Warning Sign

Anxiety may be just the warning sign you need to bring awareness to your current situation and make some necessary changes in your life. Recurrent worry and nervousness can be an indication that some areas of your life are off track and need adjusting.

For example, you may find that you have a relationship that is no longer working, perhaps your job is causing a great deal of stress, or maybe financial issues have you losing sleep and feeling anxious. Your symptoms can be difficult to manage, but exploring and coping with your anxiety can be a real opportunity for self-growth.

The next time anxiety strikes, consider what message it has for you and the possible adjustments you may need to make in your life.  

Anxiety as Motivation

Rather than always being considered a hindrance, anxiety may actually help you feel more motivated and prepared when faced with challenges. Research has shown that students and athletes who experienced some anxiety actually displayed improved performance on tests or while participating in competitive sports. Likewise, some degree of anxiety in those who have a good working memory may actually enhance performance on cognitive tests.

Consider ways that your anxiety creates an incentive for you to be successful in some areas of your life. For instance, perhaps your anxiety assists you in putting extra effort into work or personal tasks, making a good impression, or moving towards your goals. When considering your own anxiety, try to think of ways that you can use it to inspire your growth and self-improvement. 

Anxiety as a Built-In Warning System

Even though it may seem useless at times, there is a purpose for anxiety.

These feelings and symptoms are a part of our innate way of dealing with stress. Known as the fight-or-flight response, anxiety is meant to protect us from danger and allow us to react faster to emergencies. When it came to our ancestors, the fight-or-flight stress response prepared humans to either attack back or flee from a life-threatening risk in the environment, such as a dangerous animal or climate condition. In modern times, anxiety may be a symptom that helps you to quickly react to avoid an accident while driving a car or prevent you from entering an unsafe place or circumstance. One study found in the U.K. found that adolescents who suffered from anxiety had fewer accidents and accidental deaths in early adulthood than those who did not have anxiety. In this sense, anxiety may be a sign to help keep you safe.

Anxiety as a Positive Character Trait in Friendship

People who have dealt with anxiety may be more empathetic and understanding to the issues that others face. Having gone through personal struggles yourself, you may be more sensitive, loving, and accepting when friends and family members are dealing with personal challenges. It's been shown that people with anxiety are more concerned about how they interact with others. Have you noticed that you sometimes appear to be just that friend someone needs?

Anxiety as a Plus in Leadership

People with anxiety may also be skilled at leadership roles, as they take careful consideration to the possibility of multiple outcomes. For instance, many anxiety sufferers are highly aware of what can potentially go wrong, making them more cautious thinkers, careful decision makers, and great problem-solvers.

Bottom Line on Anxiety

Even though there can be some potential benefits to experiencing anxiety, and it is worthwhile to point these out to yourself, it can also become a real hindrance to many aspects of your life. Your career, relationships, and personal aspirations may be negatively affected by your struggle with anxiety.

If anxiety is preventing you from living the life you desire, then it may be time to get professional help. Your doctor or therapist will be able to determine if your symptoms meet the criteria of an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or social anxiety disorder (SAD). Additionally, she will be able to assist in creating a treatment plan that can help you better cope with your anxiety. 

Sources:

Lee, W., Wadsworth, M., and M. Hotopf. The Protective Role of Trait Anxiety: A Longitudinal Cohort Study. Psychological MedicineM. 2006. 36(3):345-51.

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