Are There Any Benefits to Anxiety?


When working with my clients, I encourage them to explore all their emotions and discover what purpose they serve. Although anxiety tends to get a bad rap, it can be a quite misunderstood emotion at times.  Many people have an emotion, and then get a reaction to having that emotion, which can make the original emotion worse.  For instance, if you are anxious, and you believe that having anxiety is “bad” then you can become anxious about being anxious. Or you can deny being anxious and cover it up with another emotion (also known as a secondary emotion) such as anger.  Either reaction does not get to the root of the problem. When we do not deal with anxiety in healthy ways, it often causes more problems, worsening our anxiety and mental health. 

However, in response to the original question, there can be some benefits to feeling anxious, especially if you deal with feelings of anxiety in healthy ways.   In our therapy sessions, I work with my clients to change the relationships they have with their feelings and teach them that how they respond to a certain feeling is more important than experiencing the feeling itself.  When you understand this, you will then realize that there may be certain benefits to feeling anxious.   

From a survival perspective, anxiety can signal to our bodies and brains that a change or action might need to occur.   It is important to process these signals with the intention of growth and compassionate self-awareness, instead of fear and harsh self-judgment.  So having that in mind, here are some possible benefits that being anxiety can have:

#1:   An anxious feeling may be a signal that you may need to change your perspective about a situation.   According to cognitive theory, how we interpret a situation is more important than the situation itself.  The perspective we have about a situation can affect how we feel.  Perhaps we are interpreting a threat when there is not one, or premature defeat where there is an opportunity for challenge and growth. Many times, our frameworks of viewing the world are automatic and are affected by past experiences, so working with a therapist can help us change our perspective and automatic thoughts and interpretations to ones that help us thrive. 

#2:  Anxiety may be a signal that we need to change something about our bodily environment.  We may be overstimulated, especially by caffeine.  Some people are oversensitive to caffeine and may have become dependent on it.   Do you find yourself trapped in a negative cycle of too little sleep and too much caffeine?  Caffeine activates the bodies fight or flight response, makes you feel anxious, and can take several hours to leave your body, making it hard for you to sleep long after you have downed that energy drink.  Furthermore, caffeine is in several hidden sources that you may not be aware of.   That chronic feeling of anxiety may be a cue to make some major lifestyle changes that include increasing sleep and deceasing sleep.  

#3: Anxiety may be a gentle or firm nudge to get going.  The Yerkes-Dodson Curve illustrates the “right amount” of anxiety that we need to have to get going in life.  Too little and we do not get anything done; too much and our bodies can suffer from the harmful effects of long-term and chronic stress.  But yes, at the right amounts, the physiological arousal we get from anxiety can have a benefit.  If you have a looming deadline and you have been procrastinating, that anxiety you feel is to help light a fire under you so you can get moving.  There may be certain urgent situations that you have been ignoring, and the anxiety you feel is a signal that you need act and address the situation.

Action Points:

  1. You are not your feelings.  Do not deny your feelings of anxiety or overreact to them.  Try taking a curious approach of an observer and separate yourself from your feelings of anxiety for a moment.  You can feel anxious without being attached to the identity of being an anxious person.
  2. Think of your feelings of anxiety as a signal of something that you may need to address or change. especially if it is a theme that keeps repeating itself.
  3. Think of a time when you have successfully moved toward and handled a situation that made you anxious.  How did you learn and grow from that situation and how can you do that here?

To learn more about how we can work together to address your anxiety, book a free consultation with me.

Please note that this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition.  It is for educational purposes only.  Seek help with a licensed professional or visit any of the following links to learn more:

This content originally appeared on SkillsetCounseling.Com

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