Your footsteps drag loudly against the concrete pathway echoing around the otherwise silent street. The dawn air licks at your skin, chilling trails of goose bumps up your arms. You know if you moved with more vigour you’d warm up quicker, but sleep still pulls at your eyelids, and sluggish yawn tugs at your jaw. Startled by a low and guttural growl you turn to see an immense black dog glaring back at you, its hackles are raised and teeth bared. Your breath immediately quickens, your heart begins to pump so fast you can hear your own pulse drumming through your earlobes. The trembling in your hands is no longer from the cold, and the weight in your feet is no longer from weariness. They’re planted, tense and ready to spring into action. Fight or flight, ready… go! The experience of fear sharpens our senses, quickens our thinking, it’s an automatic and rarely controllable reaction that is our body’s evolutionary survival advantage to immediate and present threats.
But, what if the threats aren’t as immediately present? Anxiety can have many of the same physiological responses as fear – accelerated heart-rate, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating, but also includes more psychological symptoms like persistent worrying and obsession. However, rather than being in response to a real and imminent threat, anxiety arises from an unknown, possible future or poorly defined threats. While excessive anxiety can of course be debilitating, causing significant social and occupational impairment, just like fear, the everyday experience of anxiety can be harnessed into an advantage.
Protection Anxiety is an adaptation of the fear response, so it’s a natural response to become anxious in situations that have the potential to cause you to harm or put you in lethal danger. Anxious people have also been found to process threats using regions of the brain responsible for action, responding more efficiently than more laid back people.
Motivation An anxious temperament can lead to better job performance. Worriers are more likely to be more goal-oriented, more organized; they plan effectively for unforeseen events and consequences that others may ignore, and become meticulous about the details of doing things well. Also, if you didn’t fear negative consequences, you would be unlikely to follow the rules of your workplace, be able to complete schoolwork, or become motivated to do something that does not sound enjoyable.
Intelligence Not only have studies found that those who report a general habit of worrying more also rate highly in verbal intelligence, researchers have found that people with social anxiety are more empathetic and have increased ability to understand other people’s emotions.
Direction Anxiety can direct you to see that something about a situation that is important or valuable to you. If a thought or specific experience causes anxiety repeatedly, your mind and body are likely trying to tell you there is something needing to be addressed. It may also give you a sense of what you truly care about and want to take action on, even if it may be difficult to do so.
The advantages of anxiety lie in not only the way it helps people avoid danger but also to make important and meaningful changes. Of course when anxiety is extreme and disconnected from reality, it can become an overwhelming burden and need professional treatment. However the goals of treatment are never to completely eradicate all anxious thoughts, but to recognise, understand, and manage the precipitating factors that lead to your anxieties and adapt them back to being more functional and instinctual assets.
There is support out there if you need it. Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.auBeyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.auBeyond Blue’s coronavirus support service: 1800 512 348 or coronavirus.beyondblue.org.auHave a chat with your GP who can refer you to see a counsellor, psychologist or mental health professional. Are you anxious? Take the Beyond Blue quiz to see how you’re tracking and whether you could benefit from support
As a child, Jacynta wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up - or a writer. As she got older and discovered seashell bras to be impractical professional daywear, she began focussing on writing. With degrees in both psychology and professional writing, she uses her powers for good to help give unique and resounding voices to her stories.