When you think of anxiety, its advantages are unlikely to cross your mind. However, it can have a positive impact, too. Read on for some useful anxiety benefits.
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of unease, worry or fear and ranges from mild to severe. Most people experience anxiety occasionally, like before an exam or a job interview. However, others have anxiety disorders categorized by intense, excessive and persistent anxiety in everyday situations.
Anxiety is certainly not pleasant, but it’s built into the human response system for a reason. As long as you can manage it day-to-day, there are a number of anxiety benefits to keep in mind.
1. Anxiety Benefits: Protection
Humans get anxiety as part of their response to risky situations. Anxiety contributes to your “gut feeling” when something feels off or wrong. This can help you protect yourself. As neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki said to The New York Times, anxiety and its physical effects evolved to protect humans.
For instance, research shows that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 15 with higher rates of anxiety go on to have a lower incidence of accidents and accidental deaths in their early adulthood compared to their non-anxious counterparts. In this way, anxiety helps keep you safe by alerting you to potential dangers others might minimize.
This can be applicable in the long term as well. If you get recurring anxiety in certain situations, it may be a sign to change your habits or behaviors because what you’re doing is not working.
Seth Gillihan, a psychologist speaking with the NYT, says to think of anxiety like a smoke detector. It goes off when we need it. For example, if you constantly feel sick or nervous towards the end of the weekend, it could be a sign that your job is not right for you.
Having anxiety over something specific and actionable can sometimes be exactly what you need to get to work. If you have anxiety about an exam or a big meeting coming up, you are more likely to prepare for it properly to ease your anxiety — rather than procrastinating. This translates to your performance as well. Research shows that athletes with anxiety may perform better in competitive sports than others.
3. Anxiety Benefits: Increased Empathy
Anxiety’s benefits can also include making you a better person. According to Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit, anxious people are often more careful and cautious, which can help them be more conscientious. In fact, research shows that people with anxiety have higher rates of cognitive empathy.
Anxiety often stems from uncertainty and fear of the unknown. For this reason, people with anxiety often worry about what may go wrong, and they work hard to reduce the likelihood of potential concerns. This means many anxious people are highly organized. For example, an anxious person might be more likely to plan out their vacation itinerary in full or to leave early for work to avoid anything going wrong.
How to Manage Anxiety
You can make the most of these anxiety benefits without letting worry take over your whole life.
First, experts recommend managing your anxiety by using deep breathing to calm your nervous system. This approach is particularly helpful when you focus on breathing out for longer than you breathe in. You can do this at any time and place, and it can help immediately mitigate the physical effects of anxiety.
Getting some physical exercise can also help you calm down and stay focused. Going outside for just 10 minutes and getting fresh air resets your brain and lowers anxiety levels.
However, anxiety is not necessarily beneficial to everyone. When anxiety gets too high and a person is persistently and overly anxious, it may indicate an anxiety disorder that requires professional help. According to experts from the NYT, if anxiety makes you “uncomfortable more often than not, or interferes with day-to-day functioning and prevents you from living the life you want to live,” you may need support from a mental health professional.
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