How Anxiety Makes You a Better Person
Over the past about 10 years that I've been studying stress and anxiety I realized that there is one huge misbelief about anxiety that stops people from overcoming their nagging fears and worries. And that misbelief is that anxiety is a crippling or debilitating condition.
Well, it's not.
If you learn to notice the ways that anxiety makes you a better person, you'll make a big step forward on your journey to overcoming your intrusive thoughts and anxious feelings. This one shift in your thinking will give you a huge leverage on yourself. It will help you let go of the shame and guilt that's attached to your anxiety and take away the edge of your self-criticism.
Anxiety: A Blessing or a Curse?
Most people think of anxiety as a crippling and debilitating condition. These are actually the exact words that I've been hearing over the past several years. In fact that's what I've been thinking for many years, too. I never doubted for a second that I'm dealing with a disorder here that only gives me pain and struggle.
It never really occurred to me that perhaps there is another way of looking at it that might make all the difference in my life. I just couldn't believe that anxiety could bring anything positive into my life.
So I continued to beat myself up over my social awkwardness, my sleepless nights, my constant worrying about trivial things and my inability to stand up for myself. Deep down I actually believed that I was a broken thing that needed to be fixed. And I wanted to fix myself by getting rid of my anxiety as soon as possible.
I believed that the longer it stayed around in my life the more havoc it would wreak and the more control I would lose over my feelings and my thoughts. I felt like it was a race against time and the winner's prize was "me." So I felt that with every second that I couldn't get rid of my anxiety, I was losing my sanity and I was losing the race.
The funny thing is that it was exactly this thinking that made my anxiety so much worse. It was this brutal self-criticism, this hostility toward myself that increased my anxiety about 10X. But I didn't realize it until much later.
One day I was sitting at my desk in college and a girl that I would occasionally talk to came over to me and started telling me about her day and her problems. We chatted for a little while and at the end of the conversation she casually threw a remark at me that would change the way I think about my anxiety forever.
She said "By the way, you're a good listener."
At first I really didn't care about what she had said. But I remember that that evening my anxious mind was once again hungry for negative thoughts to ruminate on. However, this time it was fed something that it wasn't really prepared for. A positive thought. And not just any positive thought, either. It was a compliment that, no matter how I looked at it, was earned by my anxiety.
At that night I wasn't ruminating over what had happened that day that I could have done better. I finally wasn't beating myself up over what I could have done differently. I was thinking about what this girl had said.
She told me I was a good listener. And why was I a good listener? Well, it's because I was very interested in other people's problems. It was only natural to me because I had had my fair share of problems in my life and I had sworn to myself that I would do everything in my power to solve them. And since I spent a lot of time thinking about my own problems, I was able to listen to her, show interest in what she had to say and I gave her some pretty solid advice in the end. I wasn't judging her - in fact I understood where she was coming from and apparently I was able to help her in a way.
And that was the first time I was faced with the fact that my anxiety had changed me. It had changed me for the better. Yes, it had made my life a lot more difficult in the process but it endowed my with a keen sense of empathy, patience and tolerance, too. It allowed me to grow in ways that might not have been possible in any other way.
A quick Exercise
So can you think of a way that anxiety makes you a better person? I know it's difficult at first but I want you to give it a shot. I know you have something in you, I know you do.
If you can make this single paradigm shift, it's going to be like a quantum leap in your life. It will drive a wedge into your habit of harsh self-criticism and your negative self-talk and self-image and bring some positive thoughts and some optimism into your life.
I have a simple exercise for you that I want you to do right now.
Grab a piece of paper and a pencil and I want you to write down at least three ways in which anxiety has made you a better person.
Take your time, it's okay to think about it. Actually the more you think about it, the better. Ready? Good.
Read your list once more and let these positive thoughts sink in and become a part of you. I would actually recommend putting this piece of paper somewhere where you can see it every morning when you wake up. Perhaps write your list on a post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror or on your fridge. Get creative with it!
And let me know if you got a valuable insight on your list!