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Wondering “How Can I Use Anxiety To My Advantage?” Here’s How

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Wondering How can I use anxiety to my advantage? can seem pretty daunting, if not impossible at times. After all, anxiety can be uncomfortable, confusing, and stressful, leaving even the most creative of us to doubt what good could come from such a miserable experience.

Some have even suggested it is a neurological relic left over from our forbearers who needed anxiety to signal threats to their survival. Is it possible that modern anxiety is simply the activation of an outdated neural pathway designed for survival that is too easily hijacked by modern lesser threats, leaving us to feel the nuisance of unwarranted fear and anxiety? Of course.

We are learning that anxiety has a broader purpose than simply survival. Not just a survival tool or an ancestral relic, anxiety can help us adapt and thrive today, just as it did for our ancestors.

With all we are learning about the brain’s efficiencies and capacity to change, anxiety’s purpose is starting to reveal what philosophers and therapists have known for centuries: anxiety helps us grow and adapt to life’s changing environments and demands. It can help us if we know how to use it.

So how can you turn anxiety’s discomfort into an advantage in your life? Here are 6 key ways.

1. Reframe your thinking – anxiety can be healthy and feeling it means you care. Anxiety motivates us to pay attention and notice the things that matter to us. Anxiety has a purpose, and tapping into it helps us use it constructively.

2. Recognize anxiety as a messenger, not a problem itself. Work to hear the message, rather than resist the messenger. When we worry about anxiety we make it worse. If you are feeling a pit in your stomach, what is that feeling trying to tell you? Did you forget something important and need another solution? Rather than focus on anxiety’s discomfort, allow yourself to focus on its purpose. It is trying to help, even if you wish it weren’t.

3. Lean in to the message – what problem is it clueing you into and what can you do about the situation? Anxiety is nudging us to notice and pay attention, and science suggests it may have more to do with attention than fear. Without its discomfort, we could miss its message, risking something we care about. Let anxiety direct your focus, and name the situation that deserves your precious attention. Identifying your feelings, and what you are worrying about, is a key strategy to using anxiety’s energy for focus.

4. Take Control where you can. A sense of control is a well-known strategy to mitigate the helpless feelings of anxiety, and there is always something you can control. What is it? Where do you have control, and where don’t you?

5. Focus on the choices you have rather than the choices you wished you had to avoid the trap of fist-shaking frustration that escalates anxiety. During times of distress, our mind naturally goes to the simplest, and most preferred, solutions we can conceive. But time spent wishing for outcomes beyond our control is time wasted, and energy frustrated. Anxiety escalates when it circles back on itself, and becomes tougher to use the more we waste it in this way.

6. Allow anxiety to fuel action. However small or incremental, actions create solutions, and give anxiety’s energy the outlet it needs to propel growth. It is only when anxiety is channeled into action that it diminishes fully. Like an alarm clock that reminds us to wake up, anxiety nudges us to focus and take action so that we can protect the things that matter most to us. Taking action creates the solutions that are needed.

Far from an archaic relic, anxiety is a purposeful internal resource that has the capacity to facilitate needed growth and change. In our culture of ever increasing demands for our attention, anxiety can serve as a backstop, reminding us when we veer off track and nudging us to tend to the things we care about most.

We need anxiety to help us pay attention, and protect ourselves against threats, be they modern and age-old temptations.

 

For more help with managing stress and anxiety, check out my anxiety blog, download my free ebook, or sign up for my newsletter.

 

 

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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