Good Anxiety

A Better You Blog, Good Anxiety: Photo of young woman with her eyes closed, standing in front of a bush

I come across so many people battling anxiety. However, not all anxiety is necessarily bad. Some forms of anxiety are actually helpful. Most people associate anxiety with some negative, unhealthy thinking, emotion or response. Typically, the sensation that keeps you tense by day and worrying at night. Those are the people who usually seek therapy.

However, there’s another form of anxiety that most don’t realize or understand. There’s such a thing as good anxiety. That’s right. Anxiety can be quite healthy. In fact, we couldn’t function if we didn’t have forms of anxiety appear in our day-to-day life. Good anxiety can be an ally if it’s preparing you to get to work on time, study for a big test, or be mindful of your surroundings when walking at night.

I recently met a remarkable young lady who lacked self-confidence in many areas of her life. One was learning how to drive.

I asked her about how she’s learning to drive; who was taking her out and where she was going when practicing. Her mom and boyfriend were taking her out on the road. She started off driving from her boyfriend’s home back to hers. Through the conversation, she explained feeling more comfortable with her boyfriend than her mother.

No matter who took her out, unbeknownst to her, she was going through the typical way most learn how to drive – gradually. From empty parking lots to side streets to highways.

She was in the very beginning of the process. As she was thinking about it, she got uptight imagining driving during busier times and crashing. At that point, she was way ahead of herself. She was only driving about a mile to two familiar destinations. It made no sense to worry about the biggest part of this process based on her lack of experience so I brought her back to where her current skill set was.

She was looking for ways to tamp those fears down and was hoping I’d be the one to do that. I explained to her that line of thinking is actually a good thing because it wants to keep her safe. I got a puzzled look in return.

In this case, her anxiety showed up for a good reason. The anxious feeling wanted her to respect the driving experience one step at a time. It’s there to caution her because the anxiety doesn’t want her to harm herself or anyone else.

I told her to see her anxiety as a friend. I asked her to give the anxiety a name. By naming it, the anxiety becomes less frightening. As we began to change the perception, the negative feelings shifted. My client began seeing the anxiety as more of a personal assistant.

At that moment, I asked her to start a conversation with her newfound assistant. At first, she laughed at the thought. I told her this is a place to experiment, have fun, and even laugh by not taking ourselves too seriously. I had her work as a curious creature starting off by introducing herself to the assistant. Instantly, that brought levity to the moment. That’s a win right there. The feeling now wasn’t so big, scary, or annoying. After that, I had her ask the assistant why it appeared. What was it trying to tell her?

Over the course of her session, she understood that the feeling of anxiety simply wanted to keep her as safe as possible. Her anxiety wanted her to practice. It wanted her to buckle her seat belt, set up her three mirrors, put two hands on the wheel at 3 and 9 o’clock, respect the road signs and fellow drivers while taking deep breathes to calm, like a good driver’s assistant would.

From that point on, the way she saw anxiety changed. She saw forms of anxiety as a gentle reminder to prepare. Instead of numbing herself with indifference and avoiding the driving experience, she actually became motivated to log the necessary miles to become a more skilled driver and comfortable enough to take and pass her driver’s test.

Thereafter, she used the same formula to land a job and begin college. So once anxiety is recognized as a useful tool or even a kind friend, there’s no telling what you might be able to do.