Why You Should Think of Anxiety as Your FriendNone By Lesley Lyle
Have you noticed that some people cope with feelings of anxiety better than others, and seem less disturbed by uncomfortable feelings of unease, worry, or fear? Their secret may lie in the fact that they have a different attitude toward anxiety, and regard it as a positive messenger rather than a negative inconvenience.
Think of Anxiety as Your Friend
As long as you do not suffer from a type of anxiety disorder (which requires professional support), thinking about anxiety as a friend may help your relationship with it. What if you considered it a buddy who looks out for you and warns you when something is wrong, long before your conscious mind is aware of it, keeping you safe and preventing you from taking unnecessary risks? It's like a friend who triggers physiological responses to ensure that your physical and mental capacities run at optimum levels, helping you deal with situations that require you to perform at your best. Wouldn’t you value a friend like that?
Anxiety Can Increase Motivation and Performance
Although it’s true that feelings of anxiety can feel uncomfortable—especially if you focus on the physical effects of increased heart and breathing rates—it nevertheless helps motivate us to perform better. For instance, before an exam or test, we are prompted to prepare and study, because doing so brings us relief. Then, during the actual event, we benefit from the biochemical effects that keep us focused and alert. Ask anyone who regularly competes in sport or performs for a living: They're likely to tell you how that blood-pumping, adrenaline-fueled experience is what drives them to produce the optimum effort needed to achieve.
It Keeps Us Safe
Anxiety is a friend that may already have saved your life! One study found that anxious adolescents are less likely to be killed in accidents than their less anxious peers. Without it, you may not even have survived into your adulthood. It warns us to modulate or choose alternative behaviors and to reevaluate our actions to keep us safe. That "gut instinct" you sometimes have—which tells you something is wrong—is another role your friend anxiety performs for you.
It's What You Call It
So what's the difference between anxiety and excitement? Probably all that differentiates the two is how you regard it and what you call it, because the physiological and biochemical responses are almost identical. That remarkable feeling of meeting someone and finding them incredibly attractive, or the excitement of playing sports on a team, are interpretations of the same thing. What you call it influences the way you experience it. So once you begin to appreciate the positive intention of anxiety and call it a friend, you may even begin to welcome it!
When to Talk to Yourself in the Third Person
Of course, sometimes anxiety is triggered too easily and is too intense—in the same way that some friends and relatives can worry too much about you and be overprotective. However, the anxiety response reduces in intensity if you use your inner voice to gently remind it (and yourself) to keep things in perspective without overreacting. This might sound a bit wacky, but studies have shown that talking to yourself in the third person is a highly effective way of reducing emotional intensity, so you can respond more calmly. Speaking reassuringly in a soft and kind voice—just as you would to a small, frightened child—has a very soothing effect.
Reversal of Fortune
Instead of fighting to control and extinguish anxiety from your life, a simple change of attitude and acceptance of it may have profoundly positive consequences for you in the future. You may discover that not only is anxiety a friend, but it can be a powerful resource that helps you accomplish your goals, make wise decisions, and feel more confident.
Lesley Lyle, MAPP, DipHE, is a positive psychology practitioner and associate lecturer on the MSc Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) course at Buckinghamshire New University UK. She is co-founder and director of Positive Psychology Learning and The Positive Psychology People. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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