Here’s How Anxiety Can Actually Be Good for You, According to Science

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For those of us who’ve lost countless hours of sleep to anxiety, it can be hard to imagine what about the condition could possibly be good. But some researchers and philosophers have argued just that, pointing out that those of us who experience anxiety are often just plain better at some things in life.

Even if we aren’t the most well-rested.

Anxiety is a perfectly normal emotion that can come up when we experience fear. But, like depression, this otherwise normal emotion can also be a disorder that wreaks havoc on people’s lives.

There’s certainly no shortage of bad news every single day, throwing open a Pandora’s box of worry for practically everyone. But those who suffer from an anxiety disorder often can’t escape the overwhelming feelings of worry and tension that consume their lives. Some form of treatment is usually required.

Though it’s generally considered a negative emotion — a version of fear, basically — there are apparently reasons to appreciate being an anxious person. Reasons you now have to read about or else you’ll just worry about them all day.

As Simon Wolfe Taylor, author of The Conquest of Dread: Anxiety From Kierkegaard to Xanax told Quartz : “Kierkegaard says anxiety sucks, it’s really horrible and one of the most agonizing things you can go through, but you cannot be a creative, imaginative human being without anxiety. That’s the cost of entry for being that kind of a person.” So hopefully at least some of your sleepless nights result in great ideas?

Taylor noted that in the past, people who suffered from anxious thoughts were often directed to read great works of literature or the Bible. Which might sound like just another thing to worry about, and certainly there are plenty of fresh anxieties to be found in the Bible (how many anxiety sufferers of the past started building large boats in the middle of the night?). But Taylor argues there may still be merit in this method.

During the Cold War, there was no shortage of things to worry about, but some argued that this was just the price of freedom. Anxiety was seen as something uniquely American, a sign that we were truly free, because we were able to make decisions, which in turn made us anxious. Though frankly, it’s hard to imagine life under a dictatorship being relatively stress-free, unless of course you are the dictator.

While noting that patients crippled with anxiety should explore every treatment option available, he notes that there are some who might benefit from looking at their condition as one that can have a positive effect on their lives.

However the evidence supports that there are plenty of benefits to being an anxious person. For instance, people who suffer from anxiety have fewer accidents and are generally considered more trustworthy. Those who are chronically nervous might not see this though, as they’re usually too busy worrying their symptoms are more obvious, or annoying, to others than they actually are.

As Tracy Foose, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco told Quartz, “…anxiety tends to be associated with the genetic profile of someone whose temperament is characterized by honesty, attention to detail, a strong drive, pursuit of excellence, and social attunement to the needs to others,”

That’s why management of the symptoms is so important, either through medication, therapy, or both. And researchers are also recommending this revolutionary new idea called taking care of yourself, that seems to really help. You know — the wild notion of getting enough sleep, drinking water, and exercising. But even religiously adhering to those measures might not alleviate all symptoms for anxiety sufferers.

A Harvard study found that people who told themselves “I am excited” instead of “I am anxious” before giving a public speech or appearance performed much better in the eyes of their audience. So next time you find yourself dreading the day ahead, try telling yourself you’re excited. Just don’t do this out loud, in front of your coworkers. Trust us, gets weird fast.