By reframing our thoughts around anxiety, we can start to see the benefits of living with it.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. (ADAA.org)
40 Million Adults! That’s a lot of us out there with some form of anxiety.
I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. My first memories are when I was young, elementary age. I always had trouble falling asleep. I worried about what happens to humans after they die, or what else is going on in the universe that we don’t know about.
Those are some pretty heavy thoughts for a child, so I’m not surprised I had anxiety.
Fast forward, today I have a mixed relationship with my anxiety. Most of the time I hate it, but I have also learned to appreciate the benefits it brings me. It’s typically with me, so I’ve had to learn to live with it. I didn’t have a choice of avoiding it.
“You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” Wayne Dyer
If you’re like me, someone who struggles with anxiety, this quote likely bothers you. It’s a preconceived notion around how we need to “deal with” anxiety. That anxiety is something we can control within ourselves.
I used to believe this. It was something that others told me so often, I started to believe it. I needed to learn to control my anxious thoughts.
Society has quite a few preconceived thoughts surrounding anxiety. Both those with and without have them. I’m guilty of this as well.
In fact, the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, ADAA.org, has developed a “cheat sheet” of all the common myths versus realities associated with anxiety. You can find it here: Myth Versus Reality.
One example is the myth surrounding the rubber band. “Snap a rubber band every time you have a bad thought.” In reality, “suppressing your thoughts actually makes them stronger and more frequent.”
Woah. After reading that, I will not be suppressing thoughts.
Anxiety is something that isn’t typically thought of in a positive light.
The first thing that comes to mind about someone with anxiety, including myself, is a person who doesn’t function well in society. They’re high-strung and prone to panic attacks.
That sounds awful. Yet, I know that couldn’t be further from the truth for myself.
Which then raises the thought, what else do we think of when we think about anxiety?
Here are the thoughts I brainstormed when thinking about someone with anxiety:
Some of these might sound a bit familiar. Even more intriguing is, I live with anxiety and I struggle with these misbeliefs myself.
Having these thoughts can be debilitating on its own. Which doesn’t include struggling with the anxiety to come.
What would happen if we reframed these thoughts in a more positive light?
“The way you tell your story to yourself matters.” Amy Cuddy
What if anxiety wasn’t something weighing you down, but something that helps make you an incredible person?
It’s sometimes hard to think of those crippling days filled with dread as something that could make me an extraordinary person. Yet, when I dig into some of my habits and personality traits that I do because of my anxiety, I find they’re not all bad.
I’ve listed a few below, well quite a few. 32 to be exact. That’s a lot of benefits from having this constant pressure to “fix” or “do.”
I could think of each of these as something that is controlling me. I’m performing these acts based on the feeling of my anxiety. Which comes off as feeling like a victim to my feelings. It’s overpowering and debilitating to think I have no control over my actions.
If I flip it and start to think of all these actions as benefits to my life and me as a person, it’s empowering.
I know for a fact I will be more reliable than someone without anxiety. I have anxiety that’s going to make me do something when I don’t want to. The person without doesn’t have that extra kick to make them. They have to find another reason to follow through.
Yes having this constant impending doom is awful, but I am incredibly punctual. I will never be late.
I am one of the most reliable people you will ever meet. My anxiety won’t let me break a promise, so I have no choice but to be reliable.
When anxiety is the controlling factor, it’s limiting. When we focus on the key benefits, anxiety is something vital that helps sustain us. It’s a part of what makes us someone who is high-functioning. That flips into something that I’m not sure I’d want to be without.
Don’t get me wrong, if I could get rid of all those days that my anxiety was so overpowering I wasn’t functioning and keep only the benefits, I would. If could ditch the anxiety and be less reliable to avoid those debilitating days, I would.
That’s not a choice I have, so I choose to think of my anxiety as a life-source. Something that makes me this incredible person that I am.
Listing all the benefits was not easy to do the first time. Now as I’ve grown and shifted my mindset around anxiety, I can more easily see the good qualities.
It hasn’t made the anxiety disappear, but it has helped me see the complete picture.
“The best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow