Inability to communicate effectively.
We all know the negative symptoms of anxiety.
As with most things in life, it’s not all bad.
Anxiety actually comes with some pretty great benefits if you know how to use it to your advantage!
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1. Use Anxiety to Your Advantage: Gain Clarity & Improve
Crisis Brings Clarity
Think about the last time you were going through something difficult.
That time may even be right now.
Chances are, that difficulty brought the truly important things in your life into focus.
I’ve found that anxiety works much the same way.
When you get anxious or you are feeling overwhelmed, your body is sending you a message.
Or maybe you need to address a deep-seated issue that you’ve been suppressing for years.
Whatever that message is, one thing is for sure – it is important.
When times get tough, we tend to look for a quick fix, something to mask the symptoms.
While these temporary solutions may bring some temporary relief, we must listen to the message our anxiety is sending if we want to solve the underlying problem.
You can use anxiety to your advantage by listening to the message it’s sending you.
So, notice what situations/places/people are causing you to feel anxious.
Remember that the root of anxiety is fear … what are you afraid of?
Use Anxiety to Your Advantage: Seize the Opportunity for Improvement
Asking yourself the question, “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?” is another way to use anxiety to your advantage.
Sometimes, our fear points us towards an opportunity for improvement.
Have you been allowing fear to hold you back from opportunities for personal growth?
If so, pay particular attention to what's giving you anxiety – that may be the ticket to your success.
For example, let's say John wants to start a blog.
But, he’s scared of criticism, embarrassment and failure.
Every time he thinks about finally doing it, he gets hit with anxiety.
But, John doesn’t allow it to hold him back.
He feels the fear and starts the blog anyway.
Once John confronts his fears, they’re not so strong anymore and he feels better about himself.
By conquering his fears (win), he is able to accomplish a big goal (win) and share his unique gift with the world through his blog (win).
2. Harness it To Enhance Your Performance
Another way to use anxiety to your advantage is to give it direction.
Stress is designed to enhance your performance.
It’s triggered by fight or flight – your body’s way of trying to help you stay alive.
While most stressful situations today don’t (hopefully) require you to fight or run for your life, you can still use that stress to your advantage!
Physiologically, there isn’t really a difference between being “nervous” and “excited”.
They both cause rapid heartbeat, sweaty hands and shallow breathing.
The difference lies in our interpretation.
We label our feelings as either negative (nervous) or positive (excited).
According to a Harvard Business School study, telling ourselves to ‘calm down’ when we’re feeling anxious doesn’t work.
A much more effective approach is for us to get excited.
It’s like a moving train.
Once it gains momentum, it can’t be stopped instantly.
But it can be redirected in order to give it some more time to slow down and come to a complete stop.
Similarly, your anxiety will take time to calm down when it’s already amped up.
But in the meantime, it can be re-framed as excitement.
When we’re nervous, we perceive a situation as a threat.
Whereas when we’re excited, we perceive that same situation as an opportunity.
(Threat vs. Opportunity)
So, use anxiety to your advantage by re-framing it as excitement.
And then use that excitement as motivation to rise to a challenge or seize an opportunity.
(Completing the challenge will get rid of the anxiety, so that can increase your motivation to get it done as well!)
Use Anxiety to Your Advantage: Fuel for Exercise
Use anxiety to your advantage by using it as fuel for exercise.
I think working out helps my anxiety more than anything else.
Whenever I’m stressed out, I can always make myself feel better (at least a little bit!) by exercising.
This has a biological explanation.
Our bodies produce cortisol, a stress hormone that regulates stress responses in the body such as:
Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning. They are also high during stressful situations.
But, your cortisol is not supposed to be high all the time.
If it is, that may be the reason why you’re experiencing brain fog, fatigue or insomnia.
One way to reduce your cortisol levels is by exercising regularly.
The great thing about exercise is that it not only reduces stress levels. It also increases our body’s natural feel-good hormones, like endorphins (which are responsible for “runner’s high”).
According to one study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, exercise has similar effects to marijuana, including:
3. Use Anxiety to Your Advantage: Treat it as a Learning Opportunity
Knowledge Is the Antidote to Fear
When you understand something, it becomes less scary.
Scared of the water? Learn how to swim.
Afraid of being attacked? Take self-defense classes.
Use anxiety to your advantage by learning about it.
Approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder.
There’s lots of information out there on all types of anxiety. To name a few: generalized anxiety, social anxiety, high functioning anxiety and panic disorder.
You can also find tons of information about specific phobias like fear of flying, fear of driving, and fear of heights.
It works the same way with phobias and exposure therapy due to habituation.
Habituation is a behavioral psychology term used to describe the process of becoming accustomed to a non-threatening stimulus.
After numerous exposures, your response will naturally decrease as you get used to it.
The idea is that once you know what [the thing you’re scared of] is all about, it’s not so scary anymore!
If you don’t expose yourself to the thing that causes anxiety, you aren’t giving yourself a chance to habituate.
Each time you avoid the anxiety-evoking situation, your anxiety grows stronger and your “tolerance” grows weaker.
So, don’t avoid it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Allow yourself to become acquainted with, and accustomed to, your anxiety.
Even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, you can still use anxiety to your advantage by understanding how stress affects the body.
Use That Knowledge to Combat Anxiety
Once you know how anxiety physically affects your body, you can do things to reduce it and increase your resilience to stress.
For example, stress causes our muscles to tighten up and our breathing to become more shallow.
So, to combat the physical effects of stress, do progressive muscle relaxation and practice deep breathing.
Anxiety also makes it difficult to focus. We’re either ruminating over the past or catastrophizing about the future.
To combat that lack of focus, engage in an activity like coloring, which allows the brain to “switch off” and focus on the moment.
According to a brain scientist at the University of New South Wales, coloring helps to block anxiety-related mental imagery.
The parts of your brain that would be focusing on the source of your anxiety is now focusing on taking in all the different shapes and sizes, picking colors and staying in the lines.
There are also certain foods that help to reduce anxiety. Eat those.
Certain foods make anxiety worse. Avoid those.
Some people find that journaling/bullet journaling helps them to deal with their anxiety.
Others find that they get the most benefit from meditation or yoga.
Try new things and see what helps you!
Just learn as much as you can and then use that knowledge to your advantage.
Laughter for Anxiety
Ever heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”?
It’s true! Comic relief can be so helpful when it comes to anxiety.
Laughter stimulates circulation, increases oxygen uptake and aids in muscle relaxation.
It also decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins – all of which will help reduce anxiety.
So, look for ways to laugh … especially about anxiety.
*Have you seen Liza Koshy on YouTube? She is hilarious!
4. Let It Encourage You to Improve Other Aspects of Your Life
I’ve always been inspired by people who turn tragedy into opportunity.
You’ve probably heard of at least one instance in which someone died due to a preventable cause (car accident, overdose, murder, illness).
And that person’s family established a fund, or a program to raise awareness. Or they go on to better the world in some other way because of the tragedy.
This kind of “silver lining” mentality can be applied to dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety give you the advantage of having a compelling reason to improve other aspects of your life.
Certain habits have not one, but many benefits.
For example, yoga strengthens the body and the mind.
Use anxiety to your advantage by taking the opportunity to create better habits like:
Hiking, or just going for a walk outside, is one of the best things you can do to boost your mood, ward off diseases and improve your overall health.
And it combines two of my favorite things – exercise and the great outdoors!
According to researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado, regular walking reduces blood pressure by up to 11 points.
But, studies show that the greatest benefits come from walking outside rather than walking indoors (on a treadmill, for example).
Japanese researchers have long touted the benefits of shirin yoku, or – forest bathing.
Forest bathing is simply walking in a relaxed way through a natural area and taking in the atmosphere.
Trees have so many amazing health benefits, including that they improve air quality, reduce blood pressure and stress levels and enhance the benefits of physical activity.
Other exercises I find helpful for anxiety are weight lifting, HIIT workouts and circuit training.
Just be careful to avoid overtraining. 30 minutes a day is really all it takes.
If you overdo it, your body will release excessive amounts of cortisol – not good for anxiety!
*Bonus: exercising also helps you sleep and improves sleep quality.
Use Anxiety to Your Advantage: Breathing
To elicit the body’s natural “relaxation response”, all you need to do is breathe.
Taking deep breaths not only reduces stress, but has many other benefits, including that it:
So, use anxiety to your advantage by developing a practice of deep breathing.
Not only will you reduce stress and anxiety, but you will also reap the other benefits of deep breathing including improved memory, focus, attention, psychomotor function, and energy levels.
Staying hydrated helps keep cortisol levels down, among various other benefits.
According to this study, increased water intake is associated with better sleep/wake moods.
Whereas decreased water intake is associated with less calmness, satisfaction and positive emotions.
Even mild dehydration can have an effect on your mood and your health.
If you don’t drink enough water, you can suffer from headaches, lack of ability to concentrate, fatigue, and general crankiness.
Adequate hydration also:
Eating a Healthy (Anti-Anxiety) Diet
The connection between food and mood is well-established.
What you eat, or don’t eat, has an enormous effect on how you feel.
For example, coffee can spike anxiety due to its high levels of caffeine.
Fast food also feeds harmful bacteria in the gut, making anxiety worse.
Bananas, on the other hand, are particularly effective in reducing anxiety ½ an hour before a stressful event, like performing on stage or giving a speech.
That’s because they contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which converts to serotonin (the happy hormone).
Bananas also act as a natural beta blocker. Which means they prevent adrenaline from binding to beta receptors, thereby lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Use anxiety to your advantage by choosing foods that not only help reduce anxiety, but also improve your overall health.
Conclusion: You Can Use Anxiety to Your Advantage
Hopefully, you've found some ways to use anxiety to your advantage in your life.
Over to you ... which tips will you implement?
Let me know in the comments!