Anxiety, that’s a word fills many of us with dread and trepidation. But what is anxiety, really? Anxiety is often experienced as a series of bodily reactions – a racing heart, rapid breathing, and breaking out in cold sweat, clammy palms and that urge to throw up are just some of the many ways our body reacts to anxiety. You can also imagine what it’s like running around with any one of these symptoms, let alone all of them. And yet, there are those among us who suffer these on a regular basis.
Anxiety actually has a very real and useful application. What would you do if you saw a tiger? Well, logic dictates that you either try and fend off the beast or run as fast as you can. This is what we call the “fight or flight” response, which is hardwired into all animals, us included.
Fast forward to 2014 and tigers are pretty hard to come by. Our tigers nowadays are bosses screaming at us, the traffic jams we face daily, missing datelines and the likes. Our minds treat these as threats and engage out fight or flight response. It’s one thing to fight or run away from a tiger, but a different thing altogether when facing down our boss who’s on our case for a missing dateline.
So, in some case, modern day anxiety is the fear of the unknown. Our mind predicts the possible outcomes and then our bodies naturally react to it. The problem lies in the fact that our mind does a really great job of creating fantastical ideas that may or may not come true. The more critical the event we’re waiting for, the more our thoughts can get away from us.
Whilst anxiety is more often than not seen in a negative light, there is such a thing as positive or helpful anxiety. Good anxiety can be felt when you’re preparing for an interview for your dream job or when you’re minutes away from a big corporate presentation to a thousand people. In those instances, anxiety is about preparing us to do the best job that we can by getting our bodies primed and ready and our minds alert and sharp. But what makes things complicated and difficult is that regardless of bad or good anxiety, we experience its symptoms in the same way.
In learning to manage our anxiety, the first step would be to recognise what anxiety is like for you. For some, it could be butterflies in their belly. For others, it may be how their hands and feet become instant popsicles. Yet others will react by breaking out in cold sweat just before an important event. Recognising when we become anxious is important because by becoming aware of it, we are able to do something about it.
Consciously ask yourself, “What’s making me nervous?” or “Am I in danger?”
For some of us, anxiety happens when we think up fantastical ideas or scenarios about the future where the absolute worst thing would happen. Remind yourself that no matter how realistic those situations, they may or may not come true. Think about the best-case scenario rather than the bad and more often than not, what actually happens is somewhere between the two.
So, perhaps asking whether anxiety is good or bad will not be important after all. We’re all going to experience some anxiety in our lives, and it is up to us to recognise it for what it is, and deal with it in the best we can.