Let’s face it: the symptoms of anxiety are uncomfortable. Tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, shaky hands, sweaty palms, obsessive thoughts, and sometimes even worse. Those symptoms don’t appeal to most of us. But what if I told you that anxiety plays an important and even crucial role in our lives? What if I told you that accepting our anxiety as a helpful part of ourselves would, in some cases, be more useful than trying to find ways to cope with or avoid it?
When we understand the ways that our anxiety can benefit us and when we accept it as a helpful part of ourselves, we in turn have a healthier relationship with it and are better able to manage it and, eventually, experience less of it. On the contrary, when we do everything in our power to avoid, eliminate or disengage with our anxiety symptoms and what’s at the root of them, it is often counter-productive to our emotional growth.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use techniques and strategies to cope with our anxiety in the moment. These tools can be helpful and sometimes even critical, especially for those with anxiety or panic disorders. But once our anxiety symptoms subside, we should fully acknowledge and explore our triggers and patterns through talk therapy, movement therapy, journaling or cognitive challenging.
I personally believe that underlying most of our anxiety is fear. For example, those of us that get anxiety when running late may have an underlying fear of being perceived as irresponsible or a fear of being judged. While we may be able to practice breathing exercises or other mindfulness strategies to minimize our anxiety symptoms in the moment, we are likely to experience this anxiety again in other situations unless we acknowledge and address our underlying fear of judgement. In some cases, our anxiety may also be the result of some internalized, past trauma and, similarly, it is only after working through and repairing that experience that we can fully begin to heal.
Anxiety, while uncomfortable, alerts us that something is off. It gives us the opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and it is through that learning that we grow, develop, and improve our quality of life.