“Benefits of anxiety” may sound like an oxymoron, but there are actually some advantages to being anxious. With some fine-tuning, you may even learn how to turn your anxiety into a superpower! What are the benefits of anxiety and how can you use them to your advantage?
The 6 Hidden Benefits of Anxiety
- Alert and Aware of Surroundings
- Clarity on What’s Most Important
- Drive to Succeed at Any Cost
- Empathy and Understanding of Others
- Ability to Handle High-Stress Situations
- Better Prepared for Challenges
With these benefits of anxiety in mind, I bet you’re starting to feel pretty cool right about now, huh? No? Give me a chance to elaborate a bit.
Let’s see if we can turn your anxiety into a superpower!
The 6 Hidden Benefits of Anxiety
1. Alert and Aware of Surroundings
Anxiety is our brain’s evolutionarily programmed fear response to danger. Back in the caveman days, anxiety was the only thing telling us to get far away from the hungry wolves hunting nearby. The “fearless” cavemen without anxiety became wolf food.
Your fears today are the same fears that kept your ancestors alive millions of years ago. While the anxious brain can be a bit finicky, it’s still essential to our survival. Even today, higher levels of trait anxiety in adolescents are associated with reduced accidents and accidental death – our anxiety is still protecting us! 
Your anxiety makes you more alert and aware than other people. You’re probably the first person in your friend group to know when something isn’t quite right. Trust your gut and this special intuition could save your life one day!
2. Clarity on What’s Most Important
We rarely feel anxious about anything that isn’t truly important to us. If you’re feeling anxiety, this is a good clue as to which things you value most in your life right now.
- Stress about an upcoming exam might tell us that our education and career are important to us right now.
- Butterflies in our stomach before a first date could suggest a current need for companionship.
- Anxiety before giving a speech might hint toward the value we place on our reputation at this life stage.
While it may seem inconvenient, there is value in identifying our fears.
One benefit of anxiety is being able to identify and explore our values more easily. With a bit of introspection, we can explore why these things are so important to us. From there, we can decide whether our effort in worrying is warranted, or if it’s time to reframe how we think about these things.
3. Drive to Succeed at Any Cost
The fear of failure is real, and it’s powerful. Some anxious people fear falling short of their ambitions. Some fear disappointing others – perhaps a parent, partner, or child.
This fear of failure can be one of the most potent benefits of anxiety. People with anxiety can force themselves to push past discomfort and give 110%; long after their less-stressed peers have given up.
This is more than motivational conjecture, by the way. Studies show that higher levels of anxiety are usually associated with higher levels of effort and proportionately higher levels of performance. 
Personal Example: Whether I’m writing an article (like this one!) or recording a video, I always feel pressure to give my all. The fear of demonstrating subpar work – or even worse, failing – is enough to get me to put the effort in each day.
4. Empathy and Understanding of Others
At some point, you’ve to received the useless advice, “Just calm down, you’re fine!” while anxious. It’s as cringe-worthy as hearing someone with depression receive the unsolicited advice to “Just cheer up!” While the people saying these things might mean well, it’s obvious they can’t relate to the mental health issues they’re trying to help with.
The best person to help with anxiety is, ideally, someone who has experienced it first-hand. Facing a level of adversity with mental health struggles gives you the unique ability to help others going through them. Plus, studies show that some types of anxiety are associated with increased empathy and emotional recognition. 
Don’t underestimate this benefit of anxiety. There will be times in your life when a loved one, or even a stranger, is feeling anxious and only you will recognize it. This is your opportunity to step in and help; even by doing something as simple as just being there and talking to them.
Personal Example: I always hated public speaking in school. Because of this, I was often the only one able to sense when someone else was nervous before a presentation. This put me in the unique position to help them out by joking about my own nervousness. Solidarity is a powerful tool.
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5. Ability to Handle High-Stress Situations
Here’s a controversial opinion – one I stand firmly by:
People who learn to manage their anxiety become the best at handling high-stress situations.
This is because people with anxiety face their fears almost every single day. Each instance of anxiety is an opportunity to learn about your mind and body. Compare this to someone with low trait anxiety, who only needs to face their fears once every blue moon. Eventually, the anxious person outpaces the non-anxious person, learning powerful coping mechanisms and unparalleled emotional fortitude.
Of course, if you never develop effective coping mechanisms, you’ll never realize this benefit of anxiety. With time, effort, and experience, you can genuinely turn your anxiety into a superpower.
Personal Example: I’ve had a number of “life-threatening emergencies” occur in front of me where everyone around froze up except for myself, who acted. I don’t credit this to courage, but rather to having enough experience with anxiety to manage it better than most when things get scary.
6. Better Prepared for Challenges
The anxious person is anxious because they care about the outcome. If they didn’t care, there would be nothing to fear at all. When the outcome of something is important to us, we take the time to prepare and succeed.
A major benefit of anxiety is that it forces us to better prepare for challenges:
- Studying twice as hard because we’re anxious about doing well on a test
- Rehearsing a speech a hundred times because we want it to go perfectly
- Taking extra time to prepare for a date because we want to look our best
While this anticipation anxiety can be a headache at times, it definitely maximizes the outcome.
Imagine the guy with no anxiety – he’s probably showing up to the date with mustard stains on his shirt!
Personal Example: I’ve never shown up for a job interview unprepared, or for a date without a fresh haircut. The motivation to avoid awkwardness in either of these situations has always been enough to force my best foot forward.
Disadvantages of Anxiety
There can be many disadvantages to anxiety if left unchecked. These can outweigh the benefits of anxiety only if we allow them to.
Some potential disadvantages of anxiety include:
- Physical discomfort, fear, nausea, sweating
- Isolating us from friends and family
- Holding us back from the things that are important to us
- Limiting our enjoyment of activities and life as a whole
Is Fear Always a Harmful Emotion?
Fear is more than just a bad feeling in our gut; it’s an instinct that keeps us safe, both physically and emotionally. Fear and anxiety can be harmful emotions if left unchecked, but helpful if we pay attention to what our fear is trying to tell us. Acknowledge your fear and assess whether or not there is a real and present threat. If there’s no real danger, this can be a good growth opportunity to push past discomfort and face your fear anyway!
How to Turn Your Anxiety into a Superpower
You can turn your anxiety into a superpower by:
- Refusing to allow the disadvantages of anxiety to hold you back.
- Learning to maximize and take advantage of the benefits of anxiety.
Understanding, facing, overcoming, and managing your anxiety will be a lifelong process. Fortunately, it will get much easier over time as your anxiety shifts from being a disadvantage to a superpower.
To expedite the process, I recommend learning some effective coping mechanisms for anxiety. Check out my book, Don’t Panic, Do This! 100+ Ways to Stop Panic Attacks and Anxiety to get the ball rolling and tap into your inner anxiety superpowers!
 Lee WE, Wadsworth ME, Hotopf M. The protective role of trait anxiety: a longitudinal cohort study. Psychol Med. 2006 Mar;36(3):345-51. doi: 10.1017/S0033291705006847. Epub 2006 Jan 5. PMID: 16393365.
 Hardy L, Hutchinson A. Effects of performance anxiety on effort and performance in rock climbing: a test of processing efficiency theory. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2007 Jun;20(2):147-61. doi: 10.1080/10615800701217035. PMID: 17999221.
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