Three Ways to Harness the Power of Anxiety
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Anxiety is like nuclear energy. Both are extremely powerful forces that have an immense magnitude of effect.
Left without checks and balances, they wreak havoc. Nuclear disasters and wars cause indescribable destruction. Likewise, the deleterious impact of significant anxiety on physical health, economics, politics, and just about every other area of life is abundantly clear these days.
However, the reverse is also true: when we channel nuclear energy productively, entire cities can benefit from the electricity supply and medical technologies can halt the progression of deadly diseases (for example, by targeting cancer cells ).
The anxiety is the same. We can use anxiety for good. Anxiety can provide us with the motivation and ability to improve our relationships with ourselves and others, and we can even grow spiritually. Like nuclear energy, the key is to use enough of our anxiety to be beneficial, without drawing so much tension to be a disadvantage.
Here are three ways to harness the power of anxiety:
Using anxiety for good can be easier than you think. Most people don’t manage their anxiety at all until it gets so high that it has to go down a notch (or two!) to be useful. But, even at higher levels of anxiety, there are strategies we can use to thrive.
1. When we feel anxious, we need to take time to check in with ourselves.
It is essential to recognize how we are feeling and to prioritize self-care. Just as an early warning system in a nuclear reactor warns technicians to examine their equipment and make sure it’s in top condition, anxiety is our body’s way of warning us to give the prioritizing sleep, exercise and healthy eating.
In my clinical practice, I tell almost all my anxiety patients to sleep 7-9 hours a night for at least 2-3 weeks. They set a bedtime, limit the use of electronic devices half an hour before that bedtime, and log their daily sleep times. I have never had a patient who did not report significant benefits from this simple strategy.
2. Anxiety is an internal signal that we need to increase our connection with others.
When we talk with others about our inner feelings, it brings us closer to them and deepens our relationship with them. Of course, we don’t need to have tearful conversations with everyone, but it’s essential to open up to someone about our feelings (e.g., a friend, relative, or therapist). ).
Several years ago, I participated in a panel on mental health at Harvard College alongside the director of the Harvard counseling center. I’ll never forget what I learned that night: the number one predictor of a successful student academically and otherwise is having at least one person to talk to about how they really feel inside.
3. Anxiety can spiritually improve our lives by reminding us to be humble.
Psychological science has revealed that the root of anxiety is intolerance of uncertainty – the inability to accept that certain things in life are beyond our knowledge and control. In this sense, when we accept that uncertainty and a limited scope of control are an integral part of the human experience, we simultaneously become less anxious and more aware of our small size in the universe.
One of my current patients recently told me that overcoming her panic disorder was “the most spiritually uplifting experience” she has ever had. At first I thought it was strange as she didn’t look thrilled or even happy during our sessions – in fact she told me that facing her panic and accepting it was the one of the hardest things she’s ever done! But, when I inquired further, she clarified that, as difficult as her treatment was, facing her fears allowed her to “let go” and recognize that ultimately she is not in control of when, where. or if she panics. In this context, she was able to accept higher levels of uncertainty and uncontrollability in life, which left her more open to spiritual endeavour.
Statistically, the majority of Americans will experience clinically significant anxiety at some point in their lives. How we respond to this anxiety determines whether it will wreak havoc or improve our lives. The most important determining factor is whether we recognize that we can thrive with anxiety – once we recognize that anxiety can be a force for good, it is infinitely easier to harness its power for good.