You are starting to feel that pang of anxiety again. Situations- a presentation, test, date, or deadline- flood you with unwanted feelings of worry and panic. You are left with a racing mind, sweaty hands, and a pit in your stomach. You are not alone. Nearly everyone has experienced anxiety. For some individuals, these feelings are frequent and linger in every corner. We can blame behavioral learning and genetics for that (thanks, Mom).
As we deal with our anxiousness, we are also reminded about how terrible stress and anxiety are for our health. According to WebMD, it causes a slew of health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Despite occasional anxiety being considered part of normal life, approximately 40 million people in the US are diagnosed with actual anxiety disorders (NIMH), leading stress and worry to be considered an epidemic.
Stress and worry however, can be used to your advantage. I deemed my anxiety as an expression of passion and a form of motivation rather than a debilitating disorder. Of course, people have debilitating anxiety that can wreak havoc, but mine only seemed to make me work harder, think deeper, and push myself as far as possible.
I thought I was the only one feeling this sense of positivity with my spurts of anxiousness until I stumbled upon research by Strack, Lopes, Esteves, and Fernandez-Berrocal (2017). They conducted a three-part study that found a positive correlation between the use of anxiety for self-motivation and performance. An article from Psychology Today also reported research to show that anxiety may be a motivator for those that continuously expose themselves to anxiety-provoking situations. Rather than avoiding the situation, those that confront the discomfort develop and ability to use anxiety to their benefit. Their perception is heightened, focus is narrowed, and emotional agility is increased.
Unfortunately, most people tend to shy away from any level of discomfort. We are so quick to stop talking to someone, pass on giving a presentation, or give up an opportunity that seems to produce short-term negative emotions. This also extends to other "negative" aspects of our character such as sadness or attention deficits. Avoiding our negative states only inhibits us from resolving the causes or tapping into the benefits. As author of "The Upside to Your Dark Side" Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener eloquently states, "when we avoid the problem, we avoid the solution."
We also stunt the positive aspects of our negative emotions by numbing ourselves every time we have a burst of sadness, worry, or inability to concentrate. Rather, we should focus on our emotions that can contribute to performance: anxiety increasing focus, sadness allows us to notice more details, and attention disorders can enhance creativity. We must experience the discomfort in order to reap the benefits within our spectrum of emotions. We must embrace the negatives.
Have you been able to harness uncomfortable experiences to your advantage?
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