• Dayna Sharp, LCSW

The Upside of Anxiety (Wait, What?!?)

Anxiety can be painful, crippling even. It will tell you all the terrible things that might happen, or all the ways in which you aren't good enough. Anxiety can make you hesitate, stop, avoid. Even if a part of you wants to accomplish something, or even simply try to work toward something, anxiety can hold you back, leave you feeling paralyzed.


But sometimes anxiety doesn't hold you in shackles, instead, it might feel like an annoying, uncomfortable roommate. A mosquito buzzing in your ear. A shaky feeling along with lingering self doubt that accompanies you through every move you make.


Anxiety is very common in today's world, and many people come to me wanting their anxiety to dissipate, wanting to feel more calm, peaceful, steady. But sometimes we find that it's not so easy to let it go. Sometimes we discover that there's actually a purpose for the anxiety--that there's--in some way--an upside to feeling anxious!


An Upside to Anxiety?!?


You might be reading this in disbelief, you might even feel a hint of anger in response to such an audacious claim. But there really can be legitimate upsides to anxiety. Most obviously, if you are in a dangerous situation, facing an actual threat, the physiological process of anxiety is important--it lets you know that something is wrong! But I'm even going further than this. I'm talking about when there is no real danger...and anxiety is still working with purpose.


Anxiety Can Give You an Ironic Feeling of Being in Control


If you've ever felt out of control--either emotionally or overwhelmed by the demands of life, your anxiety might help you to feel a sense of control. Some terrible, unexpected thing happened--either a life event or an emotional experience--and you didn't know what to do about it. You didn't know how to feel better. You might have felt very alone at the time, without support. You might even have felt powerless to change your experience at the time, and hopeless that it might ever end, that you would or could feel better. You might have, at one time, felt very vulnerable. This is especially relevant if you've experienced trauma and/or felt unsupported in your attachment relationships, especially as a child. The shock of the event and the pain of feel alone in overwhelm might have felt unpredictable and way too much to bear.


In these kinds of situations, anxiety can actually offer a way out. Unconciously, you might believe that if you're always on edge, waiting for the terrible thing to happen, you will be more prepared when it does come, less shocked, less overwhelmed, less vulnerable. This time around, if it has to happen, at least you'll know and be ready. It won't knock you down, this time. This time, you'll be in control.


Still another way anxiety can be ironically protective is that you might pre-emptively notice any and all mistakes you've made--before anyone else can. If you are doubting or criticizing your self, on high alert to anything that hasn't met a high standard, at the very least you won't have to face the shock and vulnerability of someone else doubting or criticizing you first!


In these ways, you might have learned to give yourself a manageable, ongoing dosage of anxiety--even though it's uncomfortable, at least it's predictable and self-inflicted. You're in control of it (for the most part). Anxiety is a form of protection that you've developed so that you'll never have to face the shock and hurt of emotional overwhelm again (though of course, it's a painful strategy and not generally effective).


Working Through Anxiety


If you are struggling with anxiety, if it's holding you back from your goals, in relationships or if it leaves you feeling physically and emotionally distressed, therapy can help. There are many very practical ways of getting to know your anxiety and learning how to cope with it. But it's also really important to understand what's underneath your anxiety: Is the anxiety serving a purpose? Is it there to protect you in some way? And if that's the case, it's necessary to heal the initial overwhelm, and to find more manageable, less harmful ways to cope.


At Creating Space Counseling and Wellness, I understand that getting to really know your anxiety, how it feels in your body, what kind of thoughts it produces in your mind, how it impacts your relationships, how it affects your motivation and ability to accomplish your goals, how it might serve to protect you in some way--these are all necessary to explore in order to create lasting change. If you're looking to find some space between you and your anxiety, don't settle for temporary, symptom-focused relief. It's worth taking the time to really understand it, so that you can find lasting relief, and real transformation of experience.

You don't need your anxiety to be and feel okay.

Call today to schedule an appointment! 856-281-1664