When Anxiety is a Good Thing

San Fran 2009 043

I have written a lot about the danger of experiencing too much anxiety, or dealing with it too much of the time.  But is it really all bad?  In the ideal world would we be feeling cool-as-a-cucumber every day?


Anxiety, nervousness and worry have lots of good uses.  They are the reasons we:

  • Wear seatbelts
  • Take vitamins
  • Study for spelling tests
  • Buy vacation insurance
  • Debate fracking on Facebook (wait, is that a good thing?)

Here’s another one:

  • Improve our self esteem and confidence

Here’s how it works:  We think about doing something new/hard and get nervous about it.  Let’s use running a marathon as an example.  When you first think of running a marathon you might say to yourself:

That’s crazy! I’m not athletic at all! I could never do that!

Then, for some reason (peer pressure, a mid-life crisis, whatever) you decide to sign up for your very first marathon.  During the training period you work hard and get stronger, but your nerves and anxiety start acting up.  You might say to yourself:

I am crazy for agreeing to this! What was I thinking? I am going to die out there!

But you keep training and the morning of the marathon arrives.  You’re prepared, fit and ready, but you still might say to yourself:

I feel like I am going to throw up, I’m so nervous! I have never felt this anxious before! I hate this! I’m never doing this again!

Then you start running, and you keep going and eventually you finish the race.  A few days later, after the sore muscles have passed and you have caught up on your sleep, you might say to yourself:

That was amazing! I can’t believe I ran that far and lived! I am so much stronger than I thought! I can’t wait to do that again!

And there you have it: Anxiety—->Preparation—->Living through it—->Increased confidence

Pretty cool, huh? So the next time someone asks you to do something that makes you scared, stretches your abilities or requires you to do something you think you can’t; think twice before turning them down.  The anxiety you feel might just turn into an awesome experience.