- Mental Health
What is Anxiety?: Why Having an Anxiety Disorder Isn't Such a Bad Thing
Stoplights, waiting rooms, loud noises, lines, crowded rooms.
You know the deal—wipe your damp hands across your jeans and make a quick exit before you collapse in front of a million people while they all point and laugh.
Anxiety’s a total beast. It’s easy to get down on yourself if you’re one of the literally, MILLIONS who struggles with an anxiety disorder. But stop despairing—your anxiety is a huge part of what makes you uniquely you.
First, What Exactly is Anxiety?
When you get a surge of adrenaline, which is what happens during an anxiety attack, your body is basically preparing to either fight or fly. This is called Fight or Flight and back when we were still foraging for food and killing wild animals with spears and daggers this was a really awesome trait to posess. In fact, if you didn't have fight or flight you didn't survive!
Feelings and sensations that go along with fight or flight are anger, frustration, tense muscles, the urge to yell, scream, and intimidate (I mean, it woulda made sense back in the day when we were fighting off bears) as well as feelings of extreme and intense fear, confusion, shaking, numbness, tingling (especially in the arms and fingers), chest tightness, rapid heart-rate, and the need to escape whatever situation you're currently in. This last string of attributes is what would allow you to fly away from the bear to safety. See, all of those weird symptoms actually do have a purpose. Unfortunately, these days, unless someone is robbing your house or you're being chased by a serial killer, they don't always have a reason.
In other words, there is some very primitive part of those who struggle with an anxiety disorder that doesn't seem to know when to shut off the adrenaline. Something is a bit broken that tells them that they need to either fight or run away from the threat. That means even the most basic occurrences—like taking a walk or talking to the neighbor—can induce panic in those who have an anxiety disorder; their bodies and minds perceive a threat when there is no logical threat.
Now here's why it's awesome.
Anxiety Makes You Sort of Bad-A
Last fall, as I stood in my little brother’s wedding to his highschool sweetheart I had the privilege of witnessing him say his vows, while simultaneously witnessing one of the groomsman fall into the arms of the boys behind him and seize. As the rest of the bridal party stood in horror, the bride panicked and the guests began to murmur about what they should do. (UM, DUH!) I quickly, and calmly handed my bouquet to my mother and commanded someone in the pews to call 911. Following my initial response, others were able to orchestrate the situation while I flagged down the ambulance in the rain.*
Only a month before that, a fire broke out (that’s why it’s really important to update appliances, people) in my place of work and while employees and patrons ran around panicking to the beat of fire alarms, I grabbed my purse and calmly exited the building, directing coworkers on my way through.
So, while it’s pretty humiliating to panic while eating your lunch in a busy restaurant, the perk to have a constant flow of adrenaline is that when it's actually time to panic, you may be the calmest one in the room.
*He's okay, by the way, but has a condition that causes these episodes every once in a while.
Anxiety Can Drive You to be Productive
When you learn to properly manage your anxiety on a daily-basis, you’re basically taking anxiety by the collar and saying, “I’m the boss here, Mr.” In doing so, you’ll be able to create positive results directly stemming from your anxious energy.
Fail to do this and you basically exhaust your nervous system to the point of exhaustion. For example, my nerves start to kick in around two hours after I’ve woken up, so instead of spending the rest of the day an anxious wreck, I designate this time for cleaning and writing. The weird thing about anxiety is that if you don’t let it totally overcome you, you can glean a lot of great energy and creativity from it and pour it into what you love whether it's cooking a fantastic meal for your family, redecorating the bathroom, taking online classes, or finishing a painting. This burns up a lot of the energy that would be used for panic attacks later and helps you to tackle other things that may be less appealing (and possibly panic inducing) like taking a jog.
Anxiety Makes You More Contentious and Sensitive to Others
Face it, we're weird. While others stroll the beach without a thought to the possibility of sharp rocks of broken booze bottles, we're the freaking metal detector picking up even the slightest hint of abnormality underground.
Those of us who are anxious aren’t only more sensitive to things that frighten us, we're also more sensitive to things like sounds, lights, and all things sensory. We also tend to pick up on every little detail--a tapping foot, crossed arms, pursed lips. We have a greater sensitivity to what's going on around us, to others and subsequently, their feelings. When you're sensitive to the others it takes a lot of the guess-work out of realtionships.
The key to harnessing this anxious super-power is learning a proper balance between being sensitive and being over-sensitive. If we are so sensitive to how others are feeling that we allow our own feelings to be hurt then we’re basically turning that sensitivity into selfishness.
However, if we learn to curb that tendency by realizing that others appreciate and value our feelings, then we can really focus our energy into being cognoscente of others and their needs which allows us to accomplish wonderful things. For instance, I work really well with children because I seem to be extra-sensitive when it comes to their needs. I can just feel a runny-nose from three yards away and can tell the difference between a I-Think-I-Just-Spotted-a-Murderer cry and a I-Need-a-Cuddle-and-a-Nap cry.
Being contentious of others also really comes in handy when it comes to job interviews (picking up body language) and working with other adults, whether at school, work, or even with your own spouse.
Anxiety Can Alert You When There’s Something in Your Life That Needs Tweaking
It’s easy when you have an anxiety disorder to think that all of your anxiety is bad anxiety. Alas, sometimes your anxiety is meaningful, and present for a reason in that same way that a headache indicates we need more water, sleep, or relaxation.
Since you’re a sensitive person, you should already be assessing your anxiety levels to make sure that anxiety about a certain situation isn’t uncalled for. That being said, those with anxiety may begin to write off each anxious period or episode as a false-alarm without taking heed to the idea that perhaps there’s something bigger at play.
Allow yourself to admit at times that those twangs of nervousness and fright are very much so valid and could be the catalyst to a major and positive life change. If you’ve noticed a spike in your anxiety levels take a little time to gauge your personal relationships, health, job performance, financial situation, and most importantly your own happiness and contentment.
Is something out of balance?
Maybe it’s time to cut off ties with that toxic ex, reconnect with your mom, or to start thinking about a new career-path. Or maybe you just need to start taking a walk after dinner every night instead of hunkering down in front of the computer.
Whatever the imbalance, checking in on your anxiety every so often can help you stay in-tune with the need for life’s important shifts.
While many people would recognize the need for these changes right away, those with anxiety have a tendency to stave off change until they’re absolutely sure that making one won’t completely throw their “balance” off. Don’t let anxiety trick you into thinking that staying in one little corner for the rest of your life will keep you safe and maintain happiness.
Shake it up a little once in a while! That’s the only true way to stay balanced.