Can Anxiety Be A Good Thing?
(Is it bad if I can’t relax?)
I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, but I think that many high-performance people manage somewhat intense anxieties.
For me, if I’m not moving forward in some way, I start to feel anxious.
Sitting at the beach trying to relax? Anxious.
Watching TV from the couch? Anxious.
Looking at 89 unread emails in my inbox? Anxious.
If I can’t feel the momentum of forward progress, anxiety starts knocking at my front door. That’s not super healthy much of the time. I have to do a little extra work to learn what activities will allow me to recharge the way that others recharge by relaxing.
Learning to look inside myself and pay attention to the thoughts and activities that give me energy was a huge turning point. The ability to monitor oneself and assess “is this helpful?” or “is this what I need right now?” is a skill I’m still honing.
The results so far?
If delivered in the right dosage, I think anxiety can be a superpower. It can motivate me to make things happen with a sense of urgency. It can get me moving if I’ve been at rest for too long.
After many years of feeling anxious about my work, I can honestly say that I’d rather be slightly more anxious and learn to modulate it down than be totally apathetic and have to find a way to energize myself.
It’s easier to pump the brakes than to accelerate from 0 mph.
Of course, if you’ve seen as many brain scans as I have, you’ll probably agree: there are a tremendous amount of individual differences in human beings. We each have our own balance of quirks, traits, and bouts of mental illness.
It’s also not fair to talk about this topic without mentioning how insanely influential context and environment are to an experience like anxiety. I think this is one of those things that doesn’t apply to everyone in the same way because we each have different brains and different worldviews.
With those caveats, I think I can end this thought by saying that, to me, learning to leverage this characteristic seems more like a part of the journey of self-mastery.
The more I understand my double-edged anxiety, the more I’m able to monitor and manage its unhealthy consequences and also leverage its advantages.
P.S. Let’s be super clear about this.
Anxiety can be debilitating. It can crush dreams and motivation. Just like a beer or two can feel great and relaxing, too much can turn you into a different person.
Anxiety also has an interesting symbiosis with depression for some people, like me. If anxiety (or anything else) starts interfering with your lifelike, you start calling out of work or you stop showering for weeks — you need to enlist professional help.
We now live in a world where professional counseling is less stigmatized. I see a therapist and not only when I feel an acute spike of anxiety. Talking with a therapist is an important habit I believe everyone should develop. It’s an essential part of our journey to self-mastery.