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Most of us think of anxiety and stress as something negative, harmful, or even a flaw we need to fix. But is anxiety always a bad thing?

Anxiety fills us with an uncomfortable sensation, an intense dread that we just want to escape. All of us had avoided situations that make us feel anxious or at least thought about it – canceling a date, avoiding a crowded party, postponing a doctor’s appointment.

This urge to get rid of anxiety is very natural. However, when our fears and worries get in the way of opportunities, goals, and relationships, we allow these emotions to run our lives. As we let anxiety make decisions, we begin to get further and further away from what we want for ourselves.

So, if anxiety can be this debilitating, how can it not be a bad thing? While high levels of ongoing stress and anxiety are damaging to our health, research shows that to some degree it can actually be helpful, rather than harmful.

Anxiety: Our Built-In Warning System

That’s right! Anxiety – the same one that you are constantly trying to get away from – is part of an innate warning system that protects you from danger. Since our primate origins, our fight-or-flight stress response helps us detect and react to life-threatening situations.

This response was particularly handy when our ancestors had to escape predators. Imagine what it would be like to have a bear chasing you and not feel an acute fear response that prepared your body to react. You would probably die before noticing the bear.

Photo of a black woman with boxing gloves, ready to fight. This represents how our fight-or-flight stress response prepares our body to respond to threats.Although most of us don’t have to worry about bears nowadays, we still have the same response to help us face different threats. Anxiety can incite us to reduce risks, for example, by wearing a seatbelt or a mask during a pandemic. It can also motivate us to study for a test, prepare for a job interview or meet a deadline.

This means you can use your anxiety to your advantage. Instead of ignoring it or trying to avoid it at all costs, if you choose to listen, it can help you prepare for the challenges ahead. Learning this can be helpful, as many of us are convinced that anxiety is always a bad thing, and for that reason feel anxious about being anxious.

5 Ways Anxiety Can Be Good For You

1. Keeps You Safe

Contrary to our ancestors, we don’t need to worry much about bears. However, it can be helpful to have this “tingling spider-sense” (our very own version of the Spider-Man danger sense) that helps us anticipate and prepare for threatening situations.

In a way, paying attention to that tingling feeling helps us stay connected with our sense of self-preservation. Research shows that people who struggle with anxiety are better at responding to a threat because their brains process it more efficiently. For example, one study found that adolescents with anxiety had fewer accidents in early adulthood than those who did not struggle with anxiety.

2. Keeps You Focused on What Matters

Photo of a woman with her hands on her head, looking at her laptop with an anxious expression. This represents how anxiety can bring our attention to the areas of our life that are causing us distress and helps us make changes. If you have been experiencing work stress, you can seek help from our Baltimore therapists.Have you been feeling anxious about your job? Do you feel your work takes up too much of your energy? Anxiety can be a sign to pay closer attention to your present situation. That recurrent worry and tension can alert you that things have gone off track and that it is time to make changes in your life.

So, that uncomfortable feeling you get before going to work might be telling you to shift your focus to what matters to you. While it is hard to manage all that in the midst of your daily responsibilities, exploring those anxious symptoms can be an opportunity for growth.

3. Boosts Your Motivation

Sometimes anxiety can push us into action. For instance, as a deadline approaches, it can motivate you to put in the extra effort just in time to make it. If we did not dread the negative consequences of failing our work and personal responsibilities, it would be unlikely that we could dedicate ourselves to tasks that don’t give us immediate pleasure.

Anxiety can stimulate us to develop our potential and succeed. As we saw in a previous article, some level of anxiety can improve athletes’ performance in competitive sports. This makes sense if we imagine how the physiological features – produced in our adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system – can boost our alertness and prepare our bodies to fight for our lives.

4. Makes You More Empathetic

Photo of a young woman covering her face with her hands and someone touching her shoulder with the intent to give her comfort and support. This represents how our personal stuggles can help us feel greater empathy and understanding for others dealing with similar situations.If you have struggled with anxiety or other personal challenges, you might be more sensitive and open to understanding and helping others that are going through similar difficulties. It can give you insight into what the other person is feeling, and behave in a kind and accepting way.

By sharing your experience you create a supportive space where others might feel more comfortable speaking about their worries and needs.

5. Makes You a Better Leader

Speaking of empathy – that ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes – can also improve your leadership skills. When you are more in tune with what others need to achieve their goals, it can be easier to help them get there.

Plus, people with anxiety tend to be more aware of what can go wrong, consider different approaches to a problem, and make well-thought-out decisions. All these are must-have qualities we seek out in a leader.

Therapy for Anxiety in Baltimore, MD

for "therapists near me" in Baltimore, Maryland.As we have seen, anxiety is not always a bad thing. When you begin to see it more like an ally than an enemy, you can take real benefits from it.

However, if your anxiety is persistent and interferes with your career, relationships, and decisions, it might be time to seek professional help. Our therapists at New Connections can help you understand the roots of your worries and fears and provide you with new coping skills. We are also experienced in treatment for depression, EMDR, trauma therapy, couples counseling, and other life challenges. Talk to us to know more!

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About the Author:

Cathy Sullivan-Windt

Psychologist (Ph.D.) & Owner

Cathy is a licensed counseling psychologist with almost 20 years of experience. She specializes in women’s counseling, anxiety treatment, sexual assault recovery, life transitions, and relationship issues.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature, traveling, reading, and being with her family and friends.

Read More About Cathy

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