Anxiety isn’t something people often embrace as positive; indeed, people tend to go to great lengths to eliminate if from their lives. That said, very few things are either all good or all bad (that’s part of all-or-nothing thinking that contributes to anxiety, depression, and more). Anxiety can actually have a positive side, and seeing the positive actually works to pull you up and move you forward.
Recently, I had an online conversation about this very thing with a woman named Kay who lives with anxiety and seems to have had experiences similar to my own. We agreed that looking only at the negative is dangerous for our mental health and wellbeing. To be sure, negativity exists and anxiety does have it’s share of negatives; however, anxiety has a positive side, and discovering it can be very helpful in shaping how we see ourselves and the world. Not only does anxiety itself have positive aspects, so do the people who live with it. (Five Character Strengths of People Living with Anxiety).
Kay wrote an article about the positive side of anxiety. It’s great to be able to share her perspective on the fact that being anxious isn’t always a curse.
Anxiety Isn’t All Bad
Anxiety might feel like its ruining your life, but is it all bad? I have suffered from anxiety since I was a child—I just didn’t recognise it. I thought it was normal to see catastrophe at every turn, to feel like all my nerve endings were on alert, and to be overly sensitive to everything. Perhaps it is “normal,” as there are certainly a great many people who feel the same.
As time passes, we may recognise that anxiety greatly influences our lifestyle. The choices we make when we feel frightened may be different to the ones we make when we feel confident and optimistic. We may choose the same college course as our friends rather than the course which suits our interests. We might remain in unsuitable relationships because we don’t want to be on our own. We are more likely to stick around in dead end jobs because we are too anxious to try something different. And that’s just the big things in life! Anxiety may also influence the smaller, day to day decisions and limit our opportunities to enjoy life.
Focusing on the negative impact anxiety has on our life can really get us down. But have you ever looked at it through different coloured glasses? In other words, have you ever considered that there may be positive aspects to your anxiety? And positive aspects to you yourself? Anxiety doesn’t necessarily say negative things about you.
Anxiety’s Positive Side
I’ve Rarely Met an Anxious Asshole
People who suffer from anxiety are often kind and compassionate by nature. We may feel things deeply and be sensitive to other people’s emotions. We want (need!) everyone to be happy, so that is often motivates our interactions. We tend to play the role of peacemaker because conflict increases our anxiety. You may be riddled with anxiety, but chances are you are a nice person with a good heart. Pull that bit up to the surface!
We See the Negative but We Keep Going
Anxiety creates many automatic negative thoughts that plague us day and night, such as catastrophizing situations and seeing the bad before the good. That said, those of us who suffer from anxiety can be strong and keep going despite being anxious. How else would we talk our way down from whatever dizzy, anxious heights we have reached? To do so, we consider the positives in the situation, or the good that will come from continuing on. Next time you are catastrophizing, rather than focusing on how your mind reached the catastrophe, concentrate instead on how you have been able to move it back down a gear.
Our Anxiety can bring Achievement
You might think that being a high achiever brings high anxiety, but what it if works the other way? If anxiety means you can never sit still, or your brain never stops whirring, then you may be in a great position to channel this into your goals. If your employment prospects have suffered at the hands of anxiety, could you turn this around? Could anxiety drive your potential? Overthinking can be a terrible affliction but it might also mean there is a genius in there. Sweating over the small stuff might mean you have a great eye for detail. Your anxiety could lead you to achievements, and you just might find that your achievements help to banish anxiety.
Being Anxious Can Involve Being Caring
There is no question that anxiety may have a negative impact on your relationships with other people. But remember that it can also mean you are a great person to have around. If you’re emotional, you might be more open and loving towards your nearest and dearest. We can use our sensitivity as a strength and reach out to those around us. Experiencing anxiety can help us help others understand themselves. Further, our sensitivity can help us respond positively to the needs of others, be they human, animal, or plant. We may be full of worries and “what-ifs,” but that often equips us to care for other people, other things.
So there you have it! These are just a few examples showing the upside of anxiety. Think of it this way: anxiety might rule your life, but it doesn’t have to ruin it. There’s always a flip side so don’t focus on what your fears do to you; ask yourself what they can do for you.
*Kay considers herself to be a professional worrier – not because she gets paid for it but because she is so good at it! She is ‘mid forties’ and lives in Scotland where she runs her own online business. It has taken her a long time to recognise her anxiety disorder but, now that she has, she’s happy to share. Her survival technique has always been to look for the upbeat aspects of anxiety and to see the funny side. That is the basis on which she has started her own blog – “Worried Sick”. You can find it at www.worriedsick.co.uk