How to Use Anxiety to Your Advantage

Matt Lillywhite

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Anxiety is a negative emotion that can ruin your life.

At least, that’s what most people think. When anxiety takes control of your mind, you can’t help but feel trapped in a perpetual cycle of nervous thoughts from which it’s difficult to escape.

But one concept that we rarely consider is the practical benefits of overthinking. Because all too often, we characterize it by the negative effect it has on our lives, instead of taking a moment to think about how anxiety may be beneficial.

Anxiety is an evolutionary response to a potential threat that has kept our ancestors alive for thousands of years. So surely, there have to be practical benefits to overthinking that can help you to live a better life.

For the longest time, anxiety was something that prevented me from going outside, making new friends, and living a somewhat happy life. But when I discovered the following quote from Ryan Holiday, my mindset changed due to a newly-found ability to see the positive aspect of overthinking:

“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself, and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

You can either let anxiety consume your thoughts & plunge your mental health into a bottomless abyss of pain. Alternatively, you can use it as an opportunity to identify your fears, overcome them, and live a life that you once considered to be impossible. The choice is yours.

The good news? Overthinking doesn’t have to ruin your life.

The bad news? Meaningful change never happens overnight. But if you slowly begin to adjust your mindset, you’ll notice a big difference in your mental health over time.

Now is the perfect opportunity to identify the benefits of anxiety so you can start changing your life for the better.

It’s Easy To Be Grateful For The Present Moment

When you spend each day thinking about what could go wrong, it’s easy to feel grateful for the moments in which everything seems to go right. So when you can focus on what you have, instead of what you don’t, it’s certainly much easier to live a happier life. As Epicurus once said:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Most people have a terrible habit of acting complacent due to the belief that everything in their life will remain the same forever. But when your anxiety forces you to confront the fact that things may go wrong, it enables you to experience gratitude whenever things go well.

I’ll give you an example. For many years, I was afraid of talking to people. By that, I mean that I couldn’t even have a conversation with someone due to a crippling fear of judgment and criticism.

But as I began building my confidence, I became grateful for each interaction in which my anxiety didn’t get the better of me. So over some time, I became thankful for each conversation that I successfully had.

If you want to be grateful for when things go right, you first need to understand that things won’t always go to plan. Likewise, if things currently aren’t going well in your life, it’s important to remember that your circumstances will eventually improve.

Because when you can focus on what’s going well, instead of worrying about everything that’s not, you’ll develop an unbreakable sense of gratitude that will guide you through any hardship. In the words of Marcus Aurelius:

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Anxiety Provides Motivation During Times Of Adversity

Epictetus once said, “There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

Whenever you find anxiety creeping up on you, it’s easy to let it drag you down into a perpetual cycle of negative thoughts. But instead of allowing fear or anxiety to destroy your life, I’ve found that you can also use it as a source of motivation during times of adversity.

For example, you might have social anxiety, which prevents you from interacting with others. But instead of letting it consume your thoughts, you can use anxiety as motivation to overcome your fear, so you can stop being kept awake at night by judgment from other people.

William James wrote, “the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Put simply, your perception of the world is shaped by how you think.

So if you stop letting negative thoughts prevent you from living a happier life, you’ll be much less stressed since you enable yourself to focus on everything that’s going well, instead of what isn’t.

It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t let go of anxiety to such an extent that you become delusional. But if you ensure that you can control your thoughts, and choose optimism over negativity, you’ll certainly feel much happier each day.

I’m going to leave you with a beautiful quote from Marcus Aurelius, who speaks about the importance of preventing negative thoughts & anxiety from destroying your positive mindset:

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

That’s all you need to do to live a happier life.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

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