I often talk to clients about anxiety. Some of them experience anxiety that comes and goes, often related to events that are happening in their lives. Others experience anxiety frequently, maybe related to life events or maybe not.
Nobody likes being anxious, that’s for sure. Nobody looks forward to the next time anxiety comes knocking on their door.
Clients who are feeling anxious want to know how to make it go away. And I work with them on understanding the causes of their anxiety and techniques they can use to manage it better.
But I also emphasize that feeling anxious is part of being human. It’s certainly part of living with a chronic condition. And while feeling anxious is uncomfortable, we can learn to live with it, and not “get anxious about getting anxious.” And here’s something else I talk to my clients about: Anxiety can be useful if we learn how to use it well.
Anxiety Can Deplete You but it Can Also Motivate You
Yes, that’s right. We can put our anxiety to good use. Here are a couple of examples. Feeling some anxiety about a project you have to complete can motivate you to work harder, to stay on schedule, to put your best work into it. If you felt totally “whatever” about your work, would the quality be the same? Or think about a decision you have to make that has resulted in some anxious feelings. Did your anxiety totally overwhelm you? Or as a result of your anxiety, was your research more thorough, and did you weigh the pros and cons that much more carefully?
Feeling anxious about the potential future impact of your chronic condition can also motivate you to be better informed, to ask questions, and to stay compliant with your self-care and treatment regimen.
See what I mean? We can make use of anxious feelings. It’s a matter of putting anxiety to good use, and using it well.
Not sure how to get the most out of your anxiety? Here are some ideas:
Breathe. Anxiety can get the best of you if you allow yourself to get caught up in the rush of anxious feelings and don’t maintain your perspective. So say to yourself: “Yup, I’m anxious.” And then breathe it out. This will help you to stay in the moment and not get caught up in anxious thinking that can lead to more anxiety and keep you stuck in that anxious place.
Listen to your anxiety. Sometimes, anxiety has a message: Think twice before you say yes. Get your facts straight. Ask for clarification. Make sure you’re clear about what you expect. Taking time to think out what’s behind anxious feelings can save you hassles and heartache further down the road.
Ask yourself a simple question: What’s the best way to channel my anxious feelings? Think about constructive ways to put your anxiety to use. Is there a task that could benefit from a little more energy and attention?
View your anxiety as a tool for empowerment. Anxiety can be the fuel for taking charge of a situation. Use it to energize your research on your condition and its treatment. Or to ask your doctor questions that you’ve been holding back on. Or to be that much more dedicated to managing your self-care this week. Turning anxiety into empowered activity does two things: it can supercharge your efforts and it can provide a useful distraction from an anxious situation.
Turn it on, turn it off. Think of your anxiety as a laser beam, and decide where it can be put to the best use. Turning the beam on yourself, and amping up your anxious feelings by letting your thoughts run amok, isn’t the best use. On the other hand, turning the beam toward something productive is a positive use of anxious feelings. When you’re feeling anxious, visualize yourself holding that laser beam. And remind yourself that you have a choice where you focus it.
So keep your balance. Sure, anxiety that isn’t well managed can run roughshod over your emotional well-being. But it can also be a power tool when place in the right hands: your hands.
You. Your anxiety. The fork in the road. Sure, you didn’t ask for it. But while it’s here, choose to put it to good use.