Why Anxiety is The Progenitor of Success
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or ADAA, “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.”
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of apprehension or unease from a real or perceived threat. The sensation of anxiety is your body’s way of taking your stress seriously. Anxiety is a survival response.
As the stress response is activated, your focus narrows, blood is diverted to your muscles and most importantly to your brain. Your breathing increases to get more oxygen in. As your heart rate accelerates, your blood travels more efficiently throughout your body.
When is anxiety good?
Anxiety is useful when these physiological changes enhance our performance. It can actually make us better at what we do. We all need a certain level of anxiety to achieve success. It can promote behaviors that are actually constructive.
These could be anything from studying extra hard for a test, preparing for an interview, or working toward a promotion. A certain amount of anxiety is actually a positive evolutionary benefit. Anxiety can be a strong motivator for change and success. However, your amygdala can’t tell the difference between taking an examination or running from the tiger.
What is the difference between good anxiety and bad anxiety?
There are varying ranges of anxiety. Some anxiety can actually improve your ability to perform, while other types of anxiety can be debilitating.
- Mild anxiety is everyday anxiety. This is exhibited by fidgeting or tics like nail biting. This is noticeable in people waiting for the bus or standing in line and is very common.
- Moderate anxiety is the type of anxiety felt before an exam or job interview. This is when your heart rate and breathing hastens. You may also feel queasy on your stomach. Your focus becomes sharp and you may even be better at blocking out distractions. This type of anxiety can actually be really good for us.
- Severe anxiety is in the realm of anxiety disorders. It is more than just your nervous system going haywire. We begin to hyperventilate or appear in a daze. It’s described as having intense feelings of impending disaster. In this state, we can’t really achieve what we need to be productive. We become too busy or preoccupied with trying to relieve our anxiety. This can result in destructive behaviors like abusing drugs or alcohol. Chronically living in this state prevents us from being productive members of society.
The most extreme state of anxiety is panic. This can cause migraines, temporary blindness, vomiting, diarrhea, and in extreme cases seizures or fainting. Panic can have such a negative effect on our brain that we can even hallucinate. Frequent panic attacks are extremely detrimental to our health.
Everyone experiences varying degrees of anxiety. So, it is important to differentiate the good anxiety from the bad so as not to delay necessary treatment. Many people experiencing severe anxiety and panic have disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, or PTSD.
Who are some successful anxious people?
Believe it or not, many of the people we associate with success also have self-reported high levels of anxiety. Some famous inventors such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk suggest they’ve struggled with anxiety. Famous artists and writers like Emily Dickenson and Van Goh used their anxiety to produce beautiful works. Even influential change agents like Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and Oprah struggled with feelings of worry and stress.
Bill Gates speaks about the sensation of worry in his blog. He says “The human mind wants to worry. This is not necessarily a bad thing—after all, if a bear is stalking you, worrying about it may well save your life.” He also suggests that worrying can be just what you need to make essential changes in your life. We can plainly see that it works for Bill Gates, so why shouldn’t it work for us?
Worry about the future causes us to take action. If it wasn’t for the doubt, worry, and fear we wouldn’t be motivated to achieve great things. The anxiety associated with late nights rewriting essays, rehearsing our speeches, and endless sports practice all force us into action.
‘What will my final grade be? Will people make fun of my speech? What if I let my team down?’ These worrying thoughts provoked by fear actually makes us better and more successful.
Being anxious means higher intelligence?
Interestingly, it seems that anxious people are also incredibly smart. So, it is very likely if you struggle with anxiety, you may also have higher intelligence. According to a Business Insider study by psychologist Alexander Penny of Lakehead University, students who reported more worry scored higher on verbal intelligence tests.
In another study in 2012 by psychologists Tsachi Ein-Dor and Orgad Tal of Israel, it was found that “anxious individuals were less willing to be delayed on their way to deliver a warning message.” It appears to be that people who have more anxiety are also more alert and effective at tasks.
When to seek help for anxiety that is out of control?
Anxiety can take a negative toll on our physical health. As said in an article from Harvard Medical Publishing, “Anxiety has been implicated in several chronic physical illnesses, including heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions.” It is important that chronic anxiety is not left unchecked for long periods of time. “When people with these disorders have untreated anxiety, the disease itself is more difficult to treat, their physical symptoms often become worse, and in some cases, they die sooner.”
The everyday stress and anxiety are essential for us to change and progress into the future. Fortunately, it is not very difficult to find ways to reduce our anxiety. We must harness our stress and fear to be successful but also know when to put it to rest.
Giving ourselves time to rest and recharge can make us better leaders and empathizers. After achieving our goals, it is important to take time to de-stress. We should be able to take the next day with full force.
Guest Writer Bio
Alexis (Alex) Schaffer received her undergraduate degree in psychology and is a registered nurse. In her free time she teaches yoga and writes for various online publications. She’s also the proud dog mom of a beagle named Dobby.