Anxiety is a good thing

I’ve been traveling a lot these past few months, and on a recent trip I read the book, “The Pocket Therapist.” My husband did give me a “oh come on, you can’t be serious” look when I pulled it out to read on the plane, but I really do highly recommend it — it’s clever insightful, and actually funny.

Therese refers to the tips/tricks she picked up in therapy as “emotional CliffsNotes.” Ever since reading the book, I’ve thought about what I would put in my own emotional CliffsNotes. I have a friend who would probably say I’m just looking for an excuse to make yet another list — which may be partially true — but hey, if I can make a blog post out of it too….

Anyway, a couple of months ago I ran across an awesome article over at Stepcase Lifehack, called “Can You Transform Without Getting Uncomfortable?” Craig’s main point was this:

Hypothesis: There is a positive correlation between how uncomfortable an individual is prepared to get and their likelihood of success – irrespective of the field of endeavor.

This idea reminds me of something my therapist told me once: that anxiety is a good thing. I thought she was nuts (or just wrong) at the time, since I was devoting so much time to controlling/minimizing anxiety. She explained though, that when you’re feeling anxiety, that’s when you’re making progress. The mental anguish that comes with facing uncomfortable things (like eating more, weight gain, handling conflict, being assertive, etc) is a good thing.  It means you’re making change… and that’s what you have to work through.

It was really weird for me to look at anxiety as some positive indicator of change rather than some big red “stop! uncomfortableness ahead!” sign. What I got out of the conversation at the time was that if I were waiting for recovery to be comfortable, it was never going to happen. Challenging the eating disorder was never going to feel good (at least not while still in the thick of it).

Reading Craig’s article put a different spin on it for me, though. I was still looking at anxiety as something inevitable that I had to push through to get to the other side. The blog post opened me up to the idea that uncomfortable does not equal bad. It’s just uncomfortable.

By the way, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a month (at least), but was re-inspired by something that I read on Carrie Arnold’s blog today:

The main factor for me was anxiety and fear about changing my behaviors. I was often tired of the eating disorder but unable to push through the anxiety that was keeping my ritualistic behaviors in place. Thus the status quo remained in place. My other issue was that this fear was coupled by my minimizing the issues that my AN behaviors created. They weren’t that bad, I could handle it, most people were on a diet- how was my life different? So how could I be motivated to work on a problem that I often wasn’t even sure I had?

I know that anxiety! It keeps me stuck, especially when it comes to the eating disorder.

5 thoughts on “Anxiety is a good thing

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ayaka, Finding Melissa. Finding Melissa said: Great post that I really relate to – RT @greythinking: New Grey Thinking post: Anxiety is a good thing http://bit.ly/9hoCvV [...]

  2. J

    So so true.. There was a staff counselor who used to say to me, while portioning breakfast, “does that (portion) make you uncomfortable? If not, add more.” At first I thought she was being flippant, but over time I’ve recognized the truth in her question, and I find that I’m often asking it of myself :)

  3. I can see how this is true, actually. I find that when I sneakily resort to disordered behaviour like cutting corners here and there, sneaking physical activity, my anxiety dies down. But when I’m actually eating more healthy amounts, I become stressed out and worried about my intake and my weight. It’s totally true that change causes anxiety – I just wish it wasn’t so :(

    Wei-Wei

  4. scapergal

    Anxiety as a GOOD thing, I’m NOT so sure I can wrap my brain around such a concept…Yes I live with anxiety, like right now, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach…everything that’s new for me brings it on! I’m a “succeed or fail” person by nature. If, for any reason, I think I might fail at something then I just won’t try at “that something”; the mere thought of failure makes “it” too much to bare! Once I accept that I Must Be Successful at a “thing” then I will give it my best effort ever; however, by this time I have convinced myself that “I WILL SUCCEED & FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION”. Should failure be the outcome, I am accepting of it ONLY by the BELIEF that I have given it “my best effort ever”. Often anxiety comes with the “thought of doing what I know to be wrong” other times it comes with the “thought of doing something UNFAMILIAR”. It’s the unfamiliar that’s hardest to overcome. Anxiety associated with the unfamiliar can “STOP me in my tracks”. It’s overwhelming, over powering, unmistakably painful! And completely my own doing – which is to say “I create my own anxiety by allowing FEAR to control me”. I know this, yet I am unable to fix it…

    scapergal

  5. Dan

    This reminded me of lyrics from one of my favorite Bruce Cockburn songs, “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”:

    “…nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
    Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”

    I believe that anxiety is a critical tool in helping us achieve important goals.It could be that shot of adrenalin that gets us across the finish line before our competitors or the heightened state of focus and clarity that helps us deliver a career-changing interview or presentation.

    Anxiety is only a problem when it lingers and becomes chronic. When we experience it for what seems like no apparent reason and it builds into a debilitating disorder.

    Fortunately there are now great treatment options for anxiety. However, this article made me question whether we are often too quick to rush to treatment. Maybe sometimes we need to recognize that only by working through the discomfort are we able to attain whatever we had our sights on in the first place – even if we’ve forgotten what that was!

    Dan

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