Are There Benefits to Your Anxiety?

Picture yourself right before a major moment: your first day of school, a difficult conversation with a friend, or the first time you hold hands with someone you care about. If these situations make you feel like you're Indiana Jones outrunning a monstrous boulder in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (or if you just have sweaty palms over the thought of it), then you might show symptoms of anxiety.

That feeling of panic, that sudden catastrophe could hit you at any second, might convince you that anxiety can take over your life, but it really doesn't have to. And it turns out, you're probably not the only one feeling that way.

More than 20 million people in the U.S. are living with anxiety—making it the most common mental illness in the country, according to Psychology Today. And although getting a flutter of butterflies in your stomach can be normal, missing out on fun and big life events can cripple you from living your best life. Fortunately, identifying that you might have an anxiety problem is a first step. The next is just harnessing that energy to benefit you and your goals.

What are the benefits of anxiety?

  • It develops your world view and acts as a warning sign, according to some experts. People living with anxiety exhibit "fight" or "flight" instincts - the same one that prevented prehistoric humans during encounters with sabre-toothed tigers. These responses in your brain can psychologically send off important biochemicals in your body to escape bad or unsafe situations.
  • You have a stronger sense of empathy and put others thoughts and emotions before your own because you know what it's like to feel scared, alone or just out of your element. You have a keen self-knowledge and awareness.
  • When something pops up, and you feel anxious, you know how to stop and take a closer look. You also value the joyful life moments because you've been through the valleys and suffered in darker moments. Even when you thought it was impossible, you learn that it was possible all along.
  • You end up taking on new challenges, making new friends and daring yourself to do the things you probably would have never tried before. Once you've felt out of control in your life, then you know how to regain it and improve other areas going forward.
  • Put your path to happiness in perspective. By learning from anxiety and recognizing inner strength, you can have increased confidence and improvements to your self-worth. Although you might not realize it at the time, there are many strategies to treat bouts of anxiety. The best news is that the anxiety does pass.
  • Treat stress and anxiety as a friend. Make peace with it and instead of taking it on as an adversary, or having another power struggle with your emotions, just let it happen. Confront it and don't judge yourself. Every storm ends, vision that when you're buried by your brain's worst visions.

What exactly is anxiety?

The American Psychological Association describes anxiety as "an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure." People living with anxiety disorders are often likely to avoid certain social situations because they are worried about what could happen and the types of interactions that come up. They could also have physical symptoms that play out, including sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, and dizziness.

Anxiety comes in various forms, such as panic attacks, phobias and social anxiety. It be debilitating enough that it spills into your personal and professional life and prevents you from accomplishing the goals you have.

How do you know if you have it?

People living with generalized anxiety disorder are often more likely to suffer from these signs or symptoms.

  • Excessive worry
  • Sleep problems
  • Irrational fears
  • Muscle tension
  • Chronic indigestion
  • Stage fright
  • Self-consciousness
  • Panic
  • Flashbacks
  • Perfectionism
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Self-doubt

How can you conquer anxiety?

There are a number of ways you can help treat your anxiety. Depending on how severe your situation might be, it could be helpful to consider talking to a friend or family member, and in some cases, you might find it more helpful to reach out to a potential therapist or psychologist who specializes in helping people reach a balance. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers these suggestions on how to reduce the feeling of anxiety or stress in your own daily life:

  1. Taking a break to meditate, practice yoga, listen to music, get a massage or just step away to clear your head.
  2. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals and keep energy-providing snacks nearby. Don't skip meals.
  3. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake, which can trigger anxiety levels and trigger panic attacks.
  4. Sleep more. If you're stressed, your body might just want additional rest. If you're tired, just give in, and get some shut eye.
  5. Exercise daily. It's recommended to do 2.5 hours of moderate to intense physical activity each week, including brisk walking, or the recommended 1.25 hours of jogging or swimming each week (or another form of vigorous to intense activity).
  6. Breathe deeply from your core. Inhale and exhale slowly at a count of 10. If that doesn't work, repeat and count to 20.
  7. Don't aim for perfection—it doesn't exist—just do your best. Be proud of your accomplishments and keep working hard.
  8. Stay positive and adjust your attitude. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones and work through the challenging ones.
  9. Get involved (in something). If you like to volunteer, start doing that. If you have an activity in your community that you want to be part of, then join up and find a network of uplifting people who can help you eliminate some of the stress in your daily life.
  10. Identify what triggers your anxiety. Do work, family, friends or other factors cause you to feel the symptoms of anxiety? Take time to journal or draw when you feel overcome by stress or anxiety. You might find a pattern of what causes you to feel out-of-sorts.
  11. Talk to someone you trust. Tell your friends and family when you become overwhelmed and tell them how to help you out. When you're feeling defeated, professionals, including therapists, counselors or physicians can give you guidance on how to bounce-back.

It might not be easy to get through it, but once you can crush the worst of your anxiety, and find ways to cope, then you can focus on the surprisingly odd and helpful benefits that are associated with having it.