I like to describe my anxiety as my most dedicated "frenemy."
Any one of the 40 million Americans who struggle with anxiety disorders know that living with anxiety means a lifelong struggle to navigate it. It's physical, all-consuming and, at times, unbearable. Anxiety can strain relationships, cause mental pain to manifest physically, impact the way you make your decisions and generally make your life a whole lot more difficult.
I spent years railing against my anxiety, willing it to disappear forever. Unfortunately, that's not how it works for the vast majority of people, and certainly not how it has worked for me. But as I've dealt with, examined and written about my anxiety over the past few years, I've realized that it has been a helpful tool and secret strength in as many ways as it has been a detriment. I came across a comic on Tumblr that referred to anxiety as a superpower that had to be controlled. Something clicked for me when I read that.
Learning to treat the anxious part of myself with compassion has been difficult, but invaluable. It's also allowed me to see the ways my anxiety can be channeled for the better. The real work is parsing the good from the bad, and figuring out what parts to embrace and what to change -- with the help of a great therapist, of course.
Here are six ways anxiety can be a secret weapon:
1. Anxiety can be a force for productivity. Growing up, there was no way in hell that I was ever going to turn in an assignment late or not study for a test. The anxiety I would face if I failed to be properly prepared was far worse than just doing the damn work. It made me a great test-taker and a model student. Into my late 20s, I've learned to channel my anxiety into my work and use it to light a fire under my ass when I need to meet a deadline or perform a last-minute task.
2. It may even help you excel professionally. One of the worst parts about anxiety is that it can trap you in your own head, something that I've felt acutely over the years. That side of my anxiety makes me tell myself complex (often false) narratives about real-life situations, which isn't so great, but it also allows me to formulate ideas and sentences in my mind with relative ease. Those ideas and sentences turn into essays and stories. I'm convinced that my anxiety is part of what helps the words pour out onto the page... er... computer screen when I'm particularly inspired. Inner monologue FTW.
3. Anxiety can make you better aware of the consequences of your decisions... Although my anxiety can certainly be a hindrance to quick decision-making, it also helps me to anticipate what may lie ahead. Hindsight is 20/20, but forethought is priceless.
4. ... And by that virtue, make you a more compassionate leader. Being in a leadership position is never easy, and there are certainly ways that anxiety -- especially untreated anxiety -- can make managing other people feel impossible. I was 21 when I had the first opportunity to manage a big group of people and I got massively overwhelmed about 25 times a day. As I've gotten older and learned to deal with my anxiety more effectively, I've also learned how to be a better leader. That history has also made me more compassionate towards what my coworkers might be feeling and going through on any given day. Anticipating how your actions -- or situations you have nothing to do with creating -- might impact others can be a useful tool as a boss.
5. It can make you a more empathetic person. My anxiety drives me to create elaborate stories about other people and how I would/should/could react to them. And that can be goddamn exhausting. But it's also allowed me to better imagine what others might be feeling, which has made it easier to connect with people. And isn't human connection what this life is really about?
6. Dealing with your anxiety can make you a more supportive friend. When you become introspective about your own mental health and work to understand it better, you also pick up some helpful coping mechanisms. I've shared those tools with friends of mine -- when asked, of course, because there's nothing more annoying than a person who tries to be your pseudo therapist. Being in therapy also means that I know how not to put all my sh*t on my friends, which ultimately makes for healthier relationships.
In the words of Beyoncé, anxiety is...
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