Although in the current context anxiety seems to be a problem turned into an epidemic, the truth is that this state of psychological and physiological activation is not bad in itself. Evolution has made it appear in our lives as a mechanism to face situations in which we must act proactively, leaving our comfort zone.

However, for those people who are used to a very frenetic pace of life, or to situations where there is a high risk of losing something, anxiety can end up wearing down their health ; and that is because our body is not prepared to submit to these pressures for many days in a row.

The point is that, many times, a good part of the problem that anxiety entails is that this feeling is awakened by anxiety itself, its presence. Therefore, if we learn to tame it, not only will we reduce its disadvantages, but we will be able to make its effect play in our favor .

Why should we take advantage of anxiety?

Chronic anxiety is not just a nuisance, it can have serious health repercussions. For example, it has been found that when it becomes chronic, the immune system is particularly vulnerable. This causes a chain reaction that can lead to infections, failure to heal wounds and to defend the body against viruses, etc.

Similarly, anxiety can cause our memory to function abnormally . For example, highly stressful situations may be accompanied by the inability to remember what happened well, even though consciousness was not lost. This occurs because, temporarily, certain chemicals that are secreted by the body when there is a peak in anxiety act to block the functions of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for storing memories.

Anxiety can also lead to problems in managing attention focus, at least if the stress is constant for several hours.

It is therefore important to manage anxiety levels in an intelligent way so that it neither interferes with our health nor with the mental processes that we need to think well and to make our actions bring us closer to our goals. Where to start?

Take Stress as a Challenge

A study whose results have recently been published in the scientific journal Journal of Individual Differences reveals that anxiety does not have to impair our performance in all possible situations, and in certain contexts it even enhances it. The secret lies, it seems, in how we link anxiety to our goals.

This research shows that individuals who see anxiety as part of a challenge, and not as a threat , are motivated by it, as they interpret it as a sign that progress is being made. In other words, they transform their anxiety into well-channelled energy.

So the secret is to accept the anxiety, not to turn it into a drama. People who are used to dealing with complex situations know that stress is one part of these challenges, and so they do not fear it , but recognise it as a normal aspect of their struggle to get to the situation they want to be in.

Doing the opposite can only lead us to remain in the comfort zone, interpreting the slightest brush with difficulty as a personal attack, something that must be avoided at all costs. This last style of thinking may seem more comfortable, but in reality it is not, as it forces us to remain in a passive and avoidant attitude, always focused on what may go wrong or what is already going wrong (by not trying to solve it).

In short, a moderate level of anxiety is not only normal, but also desirable: it is evidence that we are improving in some aspect, focusing on a goal that we are gradually overcoming thanks to good management of motivation and work times. As long as we know where the line between healthy and unhealthy is, stress can help us develop as people and useful members of society.

Bibliographic references:

  • Stack, J., Lopes, P., Esteves, F. and Fernández-Berrocal, P. (2017). Must We Suffer to Succeed? When Anxiety Boosts Motivation and Performance. Journal of Individual Differences , 38, pp. 113 – 124.