Why Anxiety Doesn't Have To Be A Bad Thing

Nobody enjoys anxiety. But for most, it is something that people deal with from time to time and is usually linked to a stressful event in their lives. For me, anxiety is nothing like that. 

Recently I watched a Ted talk by Kelly McGonigal called "How to make stress your friend." In the video, she discussed statistics that surprised her, even though she is a psychologist. In her job she frequently told people to reduce their stress and anxiety, believing that it led to deleterious health consequences and an unhappy life. Yet, the data presented a different outlook. In a survey that tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years, monitored their stress and recorded their likelihood of death, it was discovered that anxiety did in fact shorten lifespan. However, this only applied to people who believed that anxiety was bad for their health. People who had high levels of anxiety but considered it to be a positive motivator were unexpectedly the group with the lowest risk of death. 

From the time I was little I struggled with paralyzing anxiety. On good days that meant a mild nervousness during social interaction, and on bad days it meant panic attacks that lasted hours past bedtime. Although today my anxiety has abated somewhat, it still is a present part of my life. I take steps to reduce my anxiety; deep breaths, exercise, and rationalizing the problem, instead of ignoring it. 

Anxiety, though often vexing, has motivated me to make improvements in myself and in my environment that I would not have done otherwise. I am almost never late due to a nagging fear of letting people down, I am forced to listen to myself and retire to my room when I have had too much socializing, and most importantly, I have learned to understand what my anxiety means. Although I might not have said so as a child, today I tell you that I would not trade my anxiety for a quieter mind. If I did, I wouldn't know when I need to change something in myself or in my surroundings. Though it is difficult, I try to accept anxiety for what it is-- a troublesome but helpful part of my emotional and psychological makeup.

My opinion is enforced by Amanda MacMillan, who extols the virtues of anxiety in her article on ABC News. According to the article, stress can boost brainpower and increase immunity.

It is still important to seek help when needed. Take care of yourself when whatever you're dealing with -- be it anxiety, depression or anything else -- gets out of hand and affects your life. It can be difficult to accept seemingly harmful emotions as helpful, and indeed, they are not so for everyone.

But most of us would fare better in our struggle to stay afloat if we saw our "negative" emotions as important, even integral parts of our bodies and minds, telling us that something is amiss. Maybe we feel this way because something needs to change. If we do, we can experience anxiety as a gift -- a precursor to a better life.