***Disclaimer: This article discusses anxiety as many generally experience it-situationally. It does not in any way reflect the experience of those suffering from an anxiety disorder. For more information on anxiety disorders, please visit the American Psychology Association website***
I know- the title seems a little backwards, but I promise it's true! There are situations where anxiety is helpful. Let me explain...
According to Medline Plus, anxiety is "a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness" that is typically future-oriented. It is a normal reaction to stressful situations. Nevertheless, it doesn't sound pleasant in the slightest. Those who have experienced anxiety, which is most of us, can attest to the fact that is makes us uncomfortable (and sometimes "uncomfortable" is an understatement...)
However, as my therapist mentioned in the conversation that inspired this post, it is in this discomfort that we often grow! During our talk, she discussed how we as a society have painted anxiety to be an extremely negative thing, but it's actually a necessary emotion to experience as it helps us get out of the comfort zone and move forward.
I'll pull from my personal experience to elaborate...
One of the most profound times I experienced anxiety was when I moved away for college. I wasn't your typical "ready to fly the nest" kid. I loved my family (still do of course!), loved being around the friends I had grown close to my senior year, and didn't mind living in a small-ish town. If I could've stayed at home forever with my parents' permission and without feeling the pressure of having to move onto bigger and better things, I probably would've.
I knew my life was going to change drastically and this inevitability brought on a ton of fear, dread, and unease. I felt like I was losing the only life I had ever know, and in a way I was- I was no longer with my family daily, most of my friends and I drifted apart, and I didn't have the comfort of knowing my surroundings. As someone who has sought out comfort her whole life, this was a world-altering experience.
This was also one of the experiences I can say I've grown the most from to this day. I learned how to be truly independent for the first time in my life. I learned how to socialize with others as a true adult. I learned a new city. Most importantly, I learned how to be the adult version of myself.
Without anxiety, I would've never moved away from my hometown! I would've never pushed myself to join the dance club my cousin was in, which led me to many of my college friends. I would've never interviewed and received my first job ever. This list goes on and on. All those anxiety-inducing experiences would've never helped me grow had I stayed in my comfort zone.
Furthermore, anxiety is designed instinctually to keep us safe. It's the knowledge that something bad could happen in certain situations and helps keep us on high alert when we may need it most.
I have another example to share with you- though this one is a little more humorous according to my sister...
When I was in college, I used to walk to and from class because my apartment was literally right across the street. This made me feel safe as the area surrounding the college wasn't the nicest.
Unfortunately for me, on one faithful day coming home from my Psychology of Personality class (super interesting class btw!), I wasn't quite in the safe zone. As I crossed the road to the street my apartment complex was on, a delirious homeless man started yelling lord knows what at me and was following me to my apartment complex!
I can hear my sister laughing at this story as I write this, but in the moment it was NOT funny- I was terrified! I swear I never "soccer mom fast walked" it quicker! The anxiety zipping through my veins made my legs move as fast as they needed to to get away from this man and gave me the brilliant idea of going into my apartment complex's leasing office instead of trying to go back to my apartment. From there, we were able to neutralize the situation.
Had I not had anxiety about walking on foot in a potentially unsafe area and already had my guard up (as my dad always says) with my eyes always sweeping where I was traveling and my non-AirPod occupied ear listening to my surroundings, who knows what would've happened! I could've had a more traumatic experience (and a funnier story for my sister...)
So, while anxiety is DEFINITELY not pleasant and is extremely difficult to move through, it has the potential to let us know we're growing or keep us safe in potentially harmful situations. With all this being said, I think it's time to stop looking at anxiety simply as a negative emotion we have to endure and keep in mind it's root purposes, which are inherently to help us stay safe and grow.
If you're experiencing anxiety, whether you've got a big test, job interview, or difficult conversation coming up, I challenge you to...
Listen to Your Anxiety- Get to the root of what's causing it: Is it to help you grow or to keep you safe?
Act Based on What's Best for You- Sometimes, it's best to move through the anxiety and do it anyways for the sake of growth while other times it's in your best interest to listen to your anxiety and remove yourself from a potentially harmful situation. Either way, by getting to the root of your anxiety first, you free yourself from making a purely emotional decision and move towards making the decision that will benefit you most long-term.