I’m listening to podcaster Mora Aarons-Mele and psychologist Ellen Hendriksen have a conversation about the benefits of anxiety. Wait? What? Surely I heard wrong. For as long as I can remember, my anxiety has felt like a burden not a benefit. But on this episode of the Anxious Achiever podcast that’s not the narrative. Yes, anxiety can be annoying and even painful at times. But it can also be the source of many strengths.
Research has found benefits of anxiety include…
- Attention to Detail
Anxiety causes us to consider others, prepare thoroughly, act intentionally, and live thoughtfully. As I investigated this side of anxiety, I started to get excited. Then a verse popped into my mind, “Don’t be anxious about anything” (Php. 4:6).
How could I embrace the benefits of anxiety if I wasn’t even supposed to experience it?”
I felt a familiar sense of shame. Then I started to wonder, “What if there’s a difference between biblical anxiety and biological anxiety? What does that word in Philippians 4:6 even mean?”
When I searched commentaries about the original meaning I found this: “The prohibition is of that painful anxiety which is inevitable in all who feel themselves alone in mere self-dependence amidst the difficulties and dangers of life.” In other words, biblical anxiety comes from living in harmful fear because we’re directly refusing God’s help.
That didn’t sound like the anxiety I experienced. My anxiety felt like something physical, not spiritual. I certainly wasn’t refusing God’s help—I could feel anxious even while I prayed. I was experiencing biological anxiety, which comes from the fight-or-flight response.
The flight-or-fight response is activated when our brains perceive a threat. This threat can be tangible (like a bear charging at us) but in today’s world it’s more likely social, emotional, or psychological. When this response gets triggered, the adrenaline that’s released causes physical reactions like a racing heart, rapid breathing, shaking hands, or sweating. Our mind also goes into threat-assessment mode, which means we imagine worst-case scenarios. The flight-or-fight response is automatic, not optional.
Yes, we need tools to manage our biological anxiety so that it doesn’t get out of control. But we can release the shame of experiencing it. We’re not in trouble with God because our bodies and brains are doing their job of trying to keep us safe.
What if instead of trying to get rid of anxiety we get good at using the strengths that come with it?
Imagine Sarah has biological anxiety and starts a new job. Her anxiety tempts her to hide from coworkers, hold back in meetings, and refuse to take on responsibility because she could fail. (Ever felt that way? I’m raising my hand.) Instead Sarah uses her anxiety to notice details about her coworkers others might miss, prepare thoroughly for meetings, and diligently complete each task with excellence. When her anxiety starts to feel out of control, she turns to prayer, seeing a counselor, and exercise. At the end of her first year, Sarah is promoted and her performance review says, “Works well with others, contributes to projects, adds value to the company.”
I’ve tried to eliminate my anxiety but perhaps it’s here for a purpose. If so, a better strategy would be to accept it then decide—with God’s help and wisdom—how to work with it.
I believed anxiety was a powerful enemy.
I’m learning it’s a potential ally.
This week’s More than Small Talk podcast episode is Dealing with Anxiety. We’ll help you understand your anxiety, feel less alone in it, and give you practical tools and next steps.
Is your anxiety related to a goal or transition? I’d love to help you move past your fear and into all God has for you! Find out more about life coaching.