THE PURPOSE OF ANXIETY: A MISUNDERSTOOD ENERGY
We feel anxiety when something we care about is at risk.
In our modern world, the high-speed, high-distraction, and high-expectation culture makes it difficult to notice and tend to what is important to us.
We have too many choices, and so we worry we’ll miss out on something or make a wrong choice.
Everyone we know, and even strangers, have access to us through DMs, texts, emails, and social media. So even our attention is not fully available for us to tend to what we care about.
Our highly connected world makes it easier to compare ourselves to others (including celebrities, child prodigies, and people with privilege that we don’t have).
There’s also racism, political instability, a global pandemic, and the breaking down of the systems of beliefs and values that we didn’t previously realize were as harmful as they turned out to be.
Our police can’t be trusted to protect us. Many men in power take advantage of women who they’re entrusted with mentoring or serving as leaders, and we’ve lost our trust in politicians and government systems.
With our lives, future, wellbeing, freedom, health, and prosperity at risk, no wonder anxiety is so alive.
Anxiety sucks and can feel debilitating at times. Yet, it’s been with humans since the beginning of time. It has to have some advantage or function that makes it useful.
So what’s the purpose of anxiety?
Psychologist Michael Tompkins mentions three purposes of anxiety:
- To protect us
- To motivate us.
- To educate us.
Anxiety functions like the body’s fire alarm: it goes off when there’s smoke, even if there’s no real danger of a fire.
Some anxiety is like a false alarm. In fact, many of our anxious messages are embedded in irrational thoughts and cognitive distortions (like black and white thinking, catastrophizing, etc.).
But some anxiety is based on valid danger. It’s based on something you love being threatened.
The medical model often treats anxiety like a disease that needs to be treated with medication or dealt with as a flaw of the human mind that we need to “manage.”
But what if your body had a brilliant intuition working to protect you?
What if your environment or society resulted in your accepting certain things as “normal” when they were indeed harmful to your mental and physical wellbeing?
What if it was in your benefit to listen to your body when it breaks out in anxiety?
Most people don’t pay enough attention to their anxiety. They don’t understand what triggers it, what exacerbates it, and what message it’s giving them.
Everything has a purpose, including anxiety.
Mild anxiety has also been shown to:
- enhance memory
- improve performance
- be related to sensitivity and empathy
Anxiety is a nudge. A wake-up call. An alarm.
Anxiety prepares us for action. It creates possibilities for change. It mobilizes the energy in our body and makes it ready for action.
Anxiety won’t go away if we ignore it, avoid it, or mask it. We need to move toward it, ultimately getting to its root cause and addressing that.
The gift of anxiety is that it ultimately moves us closer to a healthier version of ourselves. It directs us toward more excellent honesty, courage, and self-actualization.
In essence, anxiety is a tool for unleashing our power and living our purpose.
When the gap widens between our dreams and our realities, anxiety emerges –reminding us to take action and create visions from those dreams that can inspire change.
The clearer we get on the source of our anxiety, the more our path forward becomes clear.
Next time you feel anxiety bubbling up or suddenly appearing, try to practice some of these strategies:
- Name it: is it just anxiety? Is there fear? Physical stress or fatigue? What am I feeling, and where is it my body?
- Journal or record a voice note: what is the message of my anxiety?
- Make a mindmap: map the sources of your stress and then branch out those sources into things you can do to address them
- Notice your anxiety about anxiety (secondary anxiety): And remember that anxiety is purposeful and that you have more resources than you think to handle what you’re facing
- Focus on possibility versus probability: are your anxious predictions really likely to happen just because they can?
- Remember times when you were able to handle anxiety: this capacity is within you, even if you momentarily forget it
- Investigate: are you overgeneralizing or predicting a future that you can’t actually predict?
- Reach out to someone you trust: recognize that anxiety sometimes connects us to other people, so go on and deepen those friendships!
- Practice gratitude: your anxiety is waking up parts of your brain and forging new neural pathways; the opposite of anxiety is auto-pilot, and no mental growth happens there
- Connect to anxiety’s purpose: how is your anxiety protecting you? Motivating you? Educating you?
- Come up with an action plan: what steps you can take to address the situation causing you anxiety?
- Watch a movie or show: especially if it features an anxious main character 🙂
- Reduce noise: take a break from social media or news that cause additional stress and things to process
- Organize your worries: sort your concerns into a list of rational versus irrational anxiety
- Practice rest, recovery, and gentle self-care: take it easy and release the pressure until you can think more clearly
- Discharge your excess energy: workout or do something physical
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