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Why Anxiety Could Be Your Superpower

by Kim GreeneAugust 7, 2022
Why Anxiety Could Be Your Superpower

Although I hated the idea, I signed up for it nonetheless: to present some of my writing before an audience. It caused me so much anxiety that I practiced immensely, frightened I would freeze in front of everyone, panic, and abruptly end my reading so I could be anxious alone. I read my piece aloud to myself several times. I cut words that I stumbled over. Superfluous words were shortened. Afterward, I practiced a little more. Then when it was time to read my own writing in front of a large group, I didn't stumble over anything.

Afterward, while my hands were still shaking and adrenaline rushed through my veins, thick like syrup, I realized I hadn't messed up.

In such an anxious situation, how could I have done so well?

The answer to the question lies within the question itself. Due to my anxiety, I prepared excessively. I practiced until failing was harder than succeeding. That's when I did it: I delivered. I read aloud in front of teachers, writers, and academics, putting forward the vulnerable words from my secret writings. For anxious people, it's a nightmare.

Practicing might have contributed to my success. Indeed, one could say that. But it was my anxiety that forced me to practice so much.

I do not think anxiety is a universal affliction, covering everyone in the same way, but I believe those who are prone to feeling anxious work a little differently. 

Prior to doing something, they usually think it through. Reading in front of an audience, for example, might cause someone to worry about all the things that can go wrong: losing your place in your piece, falling (this was a genuine concern of mine), panicking midway through, and having to leave.

There is no denying that anxiety has a bad reputation- justifiably so. There are times when it can be very challenging to function. However, changing our mindset about anxiety can do a lot of good.

The benefit of overthinking and fretting is that you're more prepared.

My mind was already prepared for the worst possible outcomes before starting this reading. I did not simply consider them but assumed I could encounter each of them, so I had a plan in place for how to proceed when bad outcomes did occur. They never did, however. As a result of reading my piece so many times, if I got lost, I knew exactly where to look on the page to continue my journey. So as not to lock my knees and faint in front of an audience, I kept them slightly bent-a skill I learned in high school choir. By reminding myself I only had three minutes, I was able to address my fear of panicking halfway through. Three minutes is all it takes for me to accomplish anything, even something I and countless others fear most: public speaking.

Anxiety, according to psychology professor Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., stimulates preparatory behavior. Procrastination and preparation do not require anxiety. Nevertheless, if you happen to be the kind of person around whom anxiety tends to thrive, there are ways to harness it for your benefit. Prepare until it's no longer feasible to be more prepared by knowing the worst outcomes and working backward from there.

Does anxiety have another upside? Our core values are often revealed through it.

The author of Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion, Dr. Wendy Suzuki, is a professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. This book teaches readers how to shift their perception of anxiety from something that hinders performance to something that fosters compassion and boosts creativity and performance. Dr. Suzuki tells us that the source of our anxiety indicates what we value in life and is indicative of what we value in life.

That's incredible, in my opinion. Getting anxious about something indicates that we are passionate about it. In other words, it means we care and are proactive in protecting what we value.

To understand all that, you need to have a certain level of knowledge—the "what if" list is a gift that comes from anxiety, according to Dr. Suzuki. “Suppose I don't know the answer? What if I forget about the study when I am asked about this part of the book? It is possible for everyone to turn their "what if" lists into "to-do lists.” According to her, stress and anxiety trigger our action-driven muscles.

Benefits Abound...

As part of a series on leading through anxiety in the Harvard Business Review, the essays explains that researchers have found that people who understand their own feelings are more likely to be satisfied at work, perform better, have better relationships, are more innovative, and can synthesize different opinions and reduce conflict.

That all sounds great. What is the caveat, then?

Avoid Ruminating

Anxiety can be used as a propellant, but it will pull you back instead if you use it too much; think about it all the time. You'll be stopped in your tracks and pulled into the cloudy state of panic all anxious people find most difficult to deal with.

Whenever you are feeling anxious, here are some things that can help you. Knowing my fellow anxious people, I'm sure you'll read this now so that when anxiety comes knocking again, you'll be prepared. Combine that with Alice Boyes' 50 ways to beat anxiety, which she writes in her book The Anxiety Toolkit.

In addition to therapy, another helpful resource is Barry McDonagh's Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks. The publication helps you see anxiety from the same perspective as Dr. Wendy Suzuki: as a positive behavior that you can benefit from, provided that you maintain control over it. This book provides you with practical methods for reducing anxiety. For me, they work like nothing else.

It cannot be stressed enough: If you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time. Call 1.800.273.8255. The Lifeline can now be reached directly by dialing 988.

Keep yourself in good mental health.

Take care of your head as if it were a temple. Remember that anxiety was our friend from the beginning of time. We survived thanks to it. Anxiety can be beneficial at times, and we need to remind ourselves of this sometimes.

Health and fitness habits can have positive effects on your emotional and mental health as well as your relationships, finances, and social well-being. 

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