Understanding the value of anxiety

Try these 6 meaningful actions to harness the value of anxiety.

Worry is something that has followed me. At a time, it stood as an enemy. Today, it’s more a shadow.

It is also one of the most common reasons people come to therapy. Most people can recognize (or have been told countless times) that there is no utility in worry. Don’t get me wrong, planning is important, but worry takes planning outside reason—it spins us up until we can not enjoy even the good things we wish not to avoid.

But there is an upside to it.

Anxiety is evidence that we have something or someone in life that we love enough to fear losing or that we care deeply enough about someone to fear their loss. No meaning? No stress. This is not a small thing. Worry is the flip side of passion.

It’s not often pleasant. We may deceive ourselves to believe that if we can just escape anxiety-provoking situations, we will feel peace again. For some, this is true. Still, for the majority of us, once one fear vanishes, another arrives.

That can be okay.

In his book, A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters, Steven Hayes, a psychologist and creator of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (and fellow PTcontributor) discusses how the tangles of anxiety and other suffering can be pivoted toward something meaningful.

Behind the sweaty hands, racing minds, and a general sense of doom, anxiety carries a lesser-known power: it can propel us toward what matters to us. What follows are six things to do with anxiety other than worry

6 Things to Do With Anxiety Other Than Worry

1. Write it Down. Writing down worries is more than a means of expression. It can help you keep track of what got you so tangled up in the past to help you gauge what matters to you. A log of worries can also provide a space where you can look back and see which of your worries came true. Most people are surprised by how few of their fears come to reality, or by how, when they did come to reality, they were able to cope effectively.

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2. Connect. We are social creatures. Affiliation is one of the strongest coping mechanisms we have. You don’t have to talk to someone about what is bothering you to benefit from this. Just being in the presence of others sharing life is enough.

3. Spark Change. Sometimes, something is getting at us for a good reason. For me, as winter nears, I worry about people experiencing homelessness. There are small things we can do to spark change both in our own lives and the lives of others. We might not be able to go out and solve all the world’s problems. Still, everything counts.

4. Let Your Anxiety Fuel Compassion. In my own life, and those of others I know who have experienced anxiety either for a temporary situation or a more chronic manifestation, it is common, upon emerging from an anxiety spiral, to feel an increased level of empathy for other people who are suffering in the world. This is beautiful. We can take that empathy and pivot it into kindness.

5. Acts of Kindness. A research study examining the effects of acts of kindness on anxiety found that participants who participated in acts of kindness reported a greater decrease in anxiety when compared to controls (Steinbach, 2019). This doesn’t have to be anything drastic; a smile, encouraging words, or baking cupcakes for your housemates are all simple acts of kindness.

6. Take in the Beautiful Things. Mindfulness of the present moment not only allows us to surf through the anxieties we experience, but it also opens us to the beauty around us. On the flip side, when we try to shut out anxiety, we also run the risk of shutting out the pleasant things. Practice taking a moment to just be.

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