5 Surprising Gifts of Anxiety

Vicki EnnsMental Health2 Comments

Do you struggle with anxiety? Do you believe your life would be better if you could just get your anxiety to go away, or if it never bothered you in the first place?

What if you considered that your anxiety actually helps you?  What if it actually  makes you a stronger person and can improve your life in the long run?

The more common and stronger message about anxiety is to emphasize all the negative impacts that can flow from chronic persistent anxiety.   It is true that anxiety can have far reaching negative effects on many aspects of a person’s life. Your thoughts can swirl around and around or pierce incessantly into your self esteem. You may feel things with extreme intensity. Your body can hurt and ache. Socially your life can shrink as you try to avoid what might stir up the clutches of anxiety.

Many people who struggle to manage and live with anxiety over time say that in the course of this journey, as they work with what scares them and can cripple the will, motivation and belief in their ability to be successful, surprising gifts can emerge from wrestling with anxiety.

Here are some gifts people report receiving from anxiety in their lives:

1.  Awareness of what really matters to us.

Anxiety is a signal that grabs our attention, our thoughts, our bodies and all our energy to focus in on something in particular that we don’t want threatened.  Often this is connected to experiences, values, patterns, relationships or hopes that really matter and go deep into our core.  Consider – does your anxiety ever signal you to pay attention to areas of your life that are really important to you?  Perhaps these areas link up with your core values, hopes, emotions or relationships?

2.  Wakes us up to fear.

The signal of anxiety is loud and persistent to get us to pay attention with avid alertness!  This is not just a sticky note reminder to pay attention to something – this is a floodlight, based on our instinct to survive threats to our well-being.

Although at times our anxiety tricks us into being fearful when there is no threat, becoming awake and attentive to our fear is a gift that can also save our life or get us to pay attention to things that have caused us harm in the past.  Have there been times you have been grateful for the signal from your anxiety?

3. Builds our relationship with our own body –  brings us home. 

Anxiety recruits many parts of the nervous system to get the body organized to do something.  Managing anxiety teaches us to pay attention and listen to the wisdom of the body, to the nuances of different feelings, and ideally to feel more at home in our body.

This benefit goes beyond managing anxiety and allows us to be more connected to our whole experience and to take in other states, from joy and pleasure to deep grief and sadness.  This means we are truly more home to receive all of our life.  Can you turn that intense attention to other feeling states you experience?

4. Gets us to know ourselves deeply with brutal honesty.

Working on anxiety requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves.  To turn toward our anxiety means we look squarely at the parts of ourselves we don’t particularly like or admire.

Anxiety challenges us to find patience and self-compassion.  If we can bring these qualities to this honesty, it expands our capacity to move forward even with anxiety.  This is the definition of courage, and it expands many qualities that we need to help us along the way. What qualities have expanded for you alongside your anxiety?

5. Allows us to make good choices based on who we are right now.

When we are more at home in our bodies and attuned to ourselves, our values, our feelings, our fears and our ability to persevere, we are in the best position to make good choices for ourselves.  Then we can continue giving ourselves the gifts of self-respect, fitting boundaries, compassion and self-value.  What gifts do you want to keep giving yourself?

Indeed, dealing with anxiety in your life requires energy, intention and persistence.  It is not an easy solution or panacea I offer. It is for those who warrior on, who show vigor and courage in the face of fearful circumstances. I want to acknowledge the pluck and fortitude it takes to live well with anxiety.

So what if instead of trying to get rid of anxiety, or cursing what it squeezes out of your life, you embraced it? Consider what it adds to your life, and look for the gifts you can use.

Vicki Enns, MMFT
Trainer, Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute

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  • LauraLee Clinchard

    Excellent article! What a wonderful and healthy way to reframe! Unless I hear an objection from you, Vicki Enns, I will be printing and using this as a handout, particularly in my DBT group. Of course with your name on it.

  • Libby7

    I had to save & also Tweet it, valuable insight and food for thought.