Our responses to stress (heart pounding, breathing quickening, muscles tensing) evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling us to react quickly to life-threatening situations. With a perceived danger, our sympathetic nervous system sends a burst of energy to the body so that we might have the energy to fight or flee. However, an anxiety disorder triggers these responses from the intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.
Excessive and persistent worry about everyday situations is a cornerstone of anxiety. These feelings of anxiety can interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger present. When these thoughts tend to revolve around performance, evaluation, success, failure or accomplishments, the stakes can seem really high when trying to judge even simple, everyday situations. Nearly every decision becomes make or break, doesn’t it?
But, have you ever considered the positive aspects of anxiety?
Positive you say? Well, believe it or not, many of the habits people with anxiety express can actually be good qualities if reframed in the right way. Managing anxiety tends to involve the development of certain process-based, relational, and time-dependent coping skills. These skills can be real strengths and of great use to your life and relationships. It’s important to remember that these skills come from YOU and your resiliency, not your anxiety.
So, let’s look at how you can find your secret strengths inside of these behaviours.
The fear of possible terrible outcomes and consequences is often the driving force for an anxious cycle to begin taking hold of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. But the reality is, that fear is an important and necessary human emotion. It motivates us to keep ourselves safe; both physically and emotionally. This is another way of saying your anxiety is born out of an impulse to protect you from threats of either a physical or (more often) emotional nature.
For this reason, you may find yourself hyperaware of other people’s thoughts, emotional states, and behaviours; as well as your impact on them. The truth is, often when we find our thoughts impulsively occupied by what other people think of us, it is fundamentally because we care a great deal about our impact on others. So, we direct a lot more energy to what is happening in the situations around us, and as a result, can become very detail-oriented in many other areas of our life. Highly organized? Attentive listener? Very attuned to the feelings and experiences of others? These make up a large part of what might be described as your intuition, or ‘gut’. The same attention to detail that anxiety can take advantage of, could in fact be the thing that gives you an advantage and often keeps you out of hot water.
While experiencing anxiety we are often highly energized by the thoughts of others, and we are most often also very attuned with other people’s feelings. This means that you can probably sense things in others before most, and as a result have an advantage when it comes to how you want to act and react in social situations. You may be more empathetic, loving, and accepting when friends and family members are dealing with personal challenges.
But balance is also important. Just because you have a great capacity to understand the feelings of other people, doesn’t mean you have to guilt, or ‘should’ yourself into feeling other people’s feelings. Because after all, how could we ever truly know what it feels like to be in someone else’s reality, or mind? So, settle for understanding, and you’ll most likely find that your efforts to protect/prevent yourself from anxious worries like becoming an insensitive or bad friend, partner, child, parent, or employee become far more effective.
Anxiety draws the incredible capacity of deeply creative people to detect and predict emotional danger. Think about what it takes to systematically create every possible scenario we may encounter in an hour, a day, or a moment… All in our mind. Think about those projects, assignments, or presentations you've gone through when anxiety may have presented itself and tried to push you to your creative limits. This creative ability also presents itself in other areas of your life as well and probably serves you in a bunch of other ways that you might not even be aware of. Your creativity is innate within you and exists completely independent of your anxiety.
These are all superpowers that anxiety loves to take advantage of and piggyback on. But honestly, these are positive traits that have nothing fundamentally to do with anxiety. The superpowers do not depend on the anxiety... they are innately within you. (The anxious tendencies are simply negative or intrusive applications of your positive qualities!) Looking at anxiety through these different lenses can help lend perspective, and offer options to cope and even thrive with anxiety. I hope this helped you to understand the deep strengths you have within you.
If you’re looking for more strategies or support, why not try therapy?
This article was written by Seth Chisholm during their time at Shift Collab.
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