The Value of Anxiety
Helen's hobby was competitive ice skating. She loved skating; she loved the lessons and the practice; she loved competing. The problem was she would get extremely anxious before a competition. Her head would hurt, she would get nauseous, and her body would shake.
Helen always placed in the top three and occasionally would win. She was convinced that if she could take the edge off her anxiety, then she would perform better and enjoy competing even more.
She decided to get a very mild anti-anxiety medication and take a very low dose before her next competition. Her experience shocked her.
At her next competition with the help from the medication, Helen was calm, relaxed and confident as she entered the rink to perform. She felt sure that this newly found confidence would help her win the competition.
In the first half of the performance she felt focused and strong. As she entered the second half of her routine, she noticed she was losing her edge, and felt her energy waning. As she went into the last sequence of moves, her body felt heavy and she had to push through to the end. She placed lower in this event than she had in a long time.
Helen’s experience with anxiety and her attitude toward it is fairly typical. Anxiety is an emotion that most of us dislike, and would prefer to avoid. We dread the idea that we would feel anxious about anything, much less something important. We get so focused on preventing anxiety or avoiding anxiety we miss the value it has.
4 Ways Anxiety Brings Value to Our Lives
1. Anxiety Creates Energy in Our Body:
Emotion is energy. Some emotions build up inside of us, creating fuel to help us move. Helen discovered that in her past performances, the anxious energy she felt gave her the strength she needed to have a strong finish to her routine.
2. Anxiety Helps Us Identify Our Values
If we examine the times and circumstances that make us anxious, we will discover that our anxiety is prompted by something that is important to us. For example, we get anxious because we feel we could disappoint someone we care about, or we are anxious that we might be late to an important meeting. We can get anxious that we are not going to do a good job at our work or a hobby. In Helen's case, she valued her ability to skate well and wanted to give a good performance. She was afraid that she would disappoint herself, her coach and the audience.
3. Anxiety is a Survival Tool
Anxiety exists to tell us to be on the lookout for danger, and to take action to protect ourselves. It is a part of the fight or flight survival instinct.
Helen was not in danger when she skated, but on an unconscious level she was afraid that if she did not do well she would get in trouble. As a child, she had a demanding father who pushed her to excel at everything she did. He would tell her she was not working hard enough if she did not make all A’s or if she was not a starter on the basketball team.
The problem comes when we have been conditioned to be afraid as a child. When the basic needs are not met in childhood we learn to be hyper-afraid as adults. The anxiety we feel is out of proportion for the event.
4. Anxiety Leads to Self-Knowledge and Growth
Psychologist Rollo May, challenged the idea that mental health means living without anxiety. He believed that experiencing anxiety could aid in personal growth. The key to having a well-adjusted life is learning how to deal with anxiety. As Helen discovered, being anxiety-free did not aid her in reaching her goals.
After her experience at the competition she began to look at what caused such high levels of anxiety when she competed. She developed skills to channel the energy she felt into her performances. She learned that although winning was important to her, it was skating and the excitement of competing that she loved.
I can help you learn to make peace with anxiety and use it to help you, call me at (919)881-2001.