I’ve said before on this blog that I’m a naturally anxious person. Most people who live with anxiety talk about “living with” anxiety, like it’s a cross to bear. And, sure, sometimes it makes it hard to drift off at night. A lot of days I walk around convinced I’m dying of some invisible disease. And, yes, I do freak out that I’m in trouble any time someone says they want to “talk” to me about something. But I’ve never felt like my anxiety was a curse.
In fact, I sometimes think it might be my superpower.
Anxiety was what made me successful at school. It made me prepare and prepare for every test, and think months into the future. I was chronically aware of the horrors that might await me on exam day, and visualised it in brutal detail, enough to make me fully certain that I was never going to let that nightmare become a reality. It also made me Head Girl of two schools. I was dependable and alert, and I always knew what was going on before anyone else did, because my anxiety kept me scanning the area at all times in case something happened. It made me a typical Type-A overachiever, in other words. Without my anxiety, I’d never have got my top GCSE and A-Level results. I’d never have gone to Cambridge. And I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today.
So what are the benefits?
Anxiety makes you crazy prepared.
Whenever an anxious person knows a difficult conversation or confrontation is coming, they’re immediately planning. Anxious people run through the situation ahead over and over again, viewing it from every possible angle, and preparing for every outcome. This means that anxious people are rarely surprised by life; every result of every big situation has been imagined, and the anxious person has considered how they’re going to feel, so when it comes they already know their opinion and what they’re going to do.
It gives you high levels of empathy and intuition.
Anxious people are constantly aware of the moods of other people they interact with, often scanning facial expressions constantly and tapping in to any shift instantly. This particular side-effect of anxiety has made me really good at job interviews- and, before that- Uni interviews- and first dates. If I want to get someone onside, I’ve had years of practice imagining what they might be thinking of me and looking ahead to how I can change that impression if it’s negative or encourage that impression if it’s positive.
It makes you acutely self-aware.
This may seem like a negative thing, because a lot of the time it can take the form of going over and over things you’ve done in the past and beating yourself up for them. But, actually, being a reflective person who really knows themself is an incredible gift to have. After years of looking back at all of my tiny regrets and successes and analysing how I feel about them, and the reasons why I acted in the way I did, I know a lot about the inner me.
After a huge argument, for example, I have the capacity to sit down with myself and genuinely go “WHY did I blow up like that?” And I’ll remember that this happened to me six months ago, and it was the same sort of comment that caused the claws to come out, and I can identify the insecurity it touched and- eventually- the reasons why that insecurity developed. And then, the next time, I can take hold of myself as the anger descends and say “Whoa. Remember last time? You know why you’re reacting this way. And you can choose not to.”
Look, I’m not saying that anxiety is something anyone would choose to have. All anxious people would love to be chilled. All I’m saying is that it’s possible to see the positives in the situation, not just the negatives. Anxiety is a heightening of the senses, and a feeling that danger is always around the corner, and it can be exhausting but it does also keep you sharp.
Yes, maybe my worry that I have an unidentified disease is crazy, and I do have to keep it in check, but it also means that I’m super vigilant of changes in my body. No aches and pains go unnoticed. So you can bet if something bad does happen, I’ll catch it fast. And, until then, I make a point of employing preventative care. I exercise, I eat well, I look after myself. All of these things stop me being so anxious and also keep me healthier.
So how do I get my anxiety to work for me?
Right now your anxiety probably feels like it works against you- and, in some cases, controls you. If you want to get to a point of acceptance with your anxiety, and start harnessing its benefits, you need to really sit down with it and work out what’s going on in that big, beautiful, anxious mind of yours.
“Know thyself.” Never was a truer word spoken.
Start by analysing your feelings a lot. What’s causing the anxiety? Instead of avoiding thinking about the thing that makes you anxious, lean into it. Imagine that exam, or that break-up, or that argument. Look at it really hard until it stops being scary. Bring it out into the light. And talk about it. If you can talk to a professional, brilliant. There’s no shame in therapy if you can access it. You’d go to a doctor for your body, right? Why wouldn’t you do the same for your mind?
And, if you can’t see a professional, find someone you trust and let all your crazy spill out. Your best friend, your partner, your mum. You can’t bottle that up or it’ll eat away at you. You often find that if you’re honest about how you’re feeling, it creates an opening for other people to be honest about theirs. I remember my first few weeks at Uni, and being crazy homesick and lonely, and just deciding that I was going to tell people. So, when they said “How are you?”, instead of responding with the typical “Fine” I said “I’m crazy homesick and quite lonely, actually. How are you?” And, you know what, nine times out of ten they said “Snap.” And then we had something in common. Seriously, openness is the way.
Finally, take some proactive steps to allay your fears. If it’s exams, make a timetable. Look that beast in the face, and start strategising how you’re going to take it down. If it’s your health, start exercising and eating better. In fact, do that anyway. Anxiety is pent-up energy, and you need to tire it out. Go for a run. Even if you hate every second of it, it’s brilliant for anxiety, because all you’re thinking as you’re running is I hate this I hate this I hate this this hurts I can’t breathe my legs hurt make it stop this is horrible. And you’re not obsessing over all the tiny things that take up the rest of your brain, whirling around in loops until you want to scream at them to shut up and leave you alone. I’m telling you, running. It’s horrible. But it shuts that brain up.
That’s all from me for today. I’ve got a weird pain in my lower back that I’m convinced is a hideous disease that’s going to eat me up and I’m having trouble stopping myself from thinking about it. So I’ve booked a yoga class at lunchtime, and that’s where I’m going now. See, proactivity!
Study Rocket. Study Happy.
We hope this helped! If you’re looking for more resources on how anxiety can be used to your advantage, verywellmind.com have done this brilliant article and there’s also this other one about how being anxious helps your career. I loved both of these. And, if you need to really bring out the big guns, can I recommend a fabulous book that changed my life? Feel The Fear- And Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. It’s absolute gold dust for anyone stuck in a fear loop, and really helps you to make positive steps to improve your life without agonising over them forever. And, if you’re in the throes of anxiety, here are some concrete tips to calm your symptoms.