Recent statistics from a range of mental health charities and governmental agencies suggest that anxiety is on the rise, especially following recent world events. Many people deal with anxiety by avoiding that which they are anxious about, and by being temporarily rewarded by avoiding, we end up negatively reinforcing the anxiety stimulus.
Have you ever tried avoiding a certain situation out of worry, or because you continuously experience a feeling where you increasingly become a victim of tension, abrupt worried thoughts and even physical changes like increased adrenaline? I’ve described here a rather typical and (sadly) common anxiety response.
According to an estimate and research by the World Health Organisation, 3.6% of people globally – about 264 million – experience anxiety disorders, of which 4.6% are females, and 2.6% are males. You may view anxiety as an adversary and an enemy. People tend to look at anxiety as something to get rid of, when in fact, it can be used to your advantage.
What is Anxiety?
For those unable to make out why you might be experiencing this strange sensation, anxiety is your body’s innate response to stress. It is a fearful or apprehensive emotion you experience, more often when you set out to do something new. For example, on the first day of school, your first meeting at your job or even when going out to a social event. And there is nothing wrong with experiencing these uncertain feelings; In fact, they are pretty normal. It may be unpleasant, but at the same time, anxious feelings may encourage you to perform better than usual. At my gym, when we are anxious about testing week whereby we attempt to lift personal best weights, we frame the anxiety and tell each other that it helps mobilise strength and effort and that the anxiety gives us at least a 10% increase!
The problem arises when this anxious feeling is always there with you. It can become generalised. This kind of situation can deter you from performing tasks that are usually seen as simple or fundamental; such as crossing a street, entering a room full of people or even making a request of someone. I agree that it can be very intense, but there is always a way for you to turn this apparent ‘weakness’ of yours into something of a strength. As Karen Salmansohn says, “Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You’re strong. You got this. Take it day by day”.
How to Turn Anxiety into an Advantage?
It is important to realise that Anxiety is not necessarily the main issue; in fact, not knowing how to deal with it often is. Maybe if you can realise that anxiety is a natural phenomenon, which usually cannot be avoided, you may be able to work with it rather than against it.
· Learn to Embrace It
Trying to avoid anxiety and ridding yourself of worrying thoughts can have the opposite effect: It can further add to your anxiety. You end up fighting it and it is not ideal to have a fight going on inside you. Instead of trying and worsening it, try to embrace your anxiety and see if it is trying to alert you about something you care about. You may even see if you can accept it for what it is. The more you try to view anxiety as normal and part of life, the less damaging it can be for you. Even successful and confident people experience anxiety; Next time, just try to focus on the task ahead of you rather than focusing on the fear associated with it.
· Utilise the Extra Adrenaline
According to research conducted by Polk State College, anxiety releases the stress hormone – also known as adrenaline – and it reportedly has the same (or at least, similar) effect as drinking coffee. That is, it can really help boost your productivity. If you are anxious about an upcoming project, task or anything new at all, try using that extra rush of energy to help you achieve your goals and perform better at the daunting new task, rather than trying to fight against it. In fact, it is believed that coaches want their athletes to be more anxious than relaxed since a moderate amount of anxiety can keep people at their toes, helping them perform better.
· Categorise Unproductive Worry and Productive Worry
Remember that anxiety can be both productive and unproductive as well. Unproductive worry applies to things that are out of your control, and therefore worrying about them can also lead to an anxiety attack.
On the other hand, productive anxiety is when you worry about things that you can, in fact, change. It is the productive worry, where you can take account of your anxiety and therefore take the required steps to perform that task successfully.
· Try to Lessen the Intensity
Anxiety often has its roots in fear. Try questioning yourself as to what is it that you’re so frightened of? Question yourself about the worst possible scenario possible and the chances of that actually happening; only then maybe you can try and decrease your anxiety. You can breathe deeply and even imagine some of it flowing out of the soles of your feet as you relax and reduce the anxiety to a manageable, useful level.
· Name your Emotions
Try translating your emotions into language. Research suggests that even though you think that this would be ineffective, it does actually help you control and lessen its intensity. By translating your emotional experience into language, you can really shape your experiences. So, the next time you experience intense anxiety, try talking to yourself and explaining what it is that you’re experiencing to help yourself out of a potentially devastating emotional spiral.
· Reframe Fear into Excitement
Do not be hesitant in trying and forcing yourself to give your negative emotions a positive outlook. It has shown that trying to give your negative experience a positive outlook can really help one bring a positive impact in whatever they are doing. Remember that anxiety does not mean that you have lost control of yourself. In fact, you might be more in control than you think. It is better for you to be excited and motivated than to spend your time in fear and anxiety.
Anxiety does not necessarily have to be a curse. It remains one of the most basic emotions of humans. It can motivate us to focus and make us attentive enough to find solutions to our problems; It can give you that final push to achieve your goals. You do not always need to fight or fear it; instead, you can use it to make your life better. Sometimes we can frame it as a resource.
Much of my work with those who experience anxiety ensures that I recognise it can be a serious issue for many and I am not intending to make light of it, or be glib in response to anxiety which can be crippling for many. Where it is less debilitating, the next time you experience anxiety, try facing it, accepting it as normal and try to utilise that extra rush of energy to help you achieve your aims!
To end it, we will be quoting Martin Luther King, who said, “You do not need to see the whole stair case, just take the first step.”
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