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Sharp Health News

The positive side of experiencing anxiety

Jan. 15, 2019

The positive side of experiencing anxiety

Anxiety is generally characterized with words like “worry” or “fear” and as something to avoid. But what if the experience of feeling anxious was sometimes positive?

According to Dr. Suhair Erikat, a doctor of behavioral health and a marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, anxiety is a natural emotional response that helps us avoid potentially dangerous situations. And while reducing anxiety is beneficial, you would never want to get rid of it altogether.

There are two main positive functions of anxiety: to motivate action and to communicate.

Anxiety communicates the need for:

Preparation
Anxiety motivates you to prepare for stressful situations and consider worst-case scenarios. For example, if you have a big exam or speech, you may feel anxious, which would compel you to study and practice for the best possible outcome.

Protection
“Like other emotions, anxiety motivates our behavior and prepares us for action in the midst of danger,” says Dr. Erikat. “The action urge of anxiety is often hardwired in biology.”

For example, when a saber-toothed tiger approached a caveman, he felt anxiety, which motivated the caveman to run.

Attention
“Anxiety saves time in getting us to act in important situations,” says Dr. Erikat. “If you’re driving and a car cuts you off, your anxiety would move you to slam your brakes and avoid hitting the car.”

Overall, anxiety helps us overcome obstacles — both mental and environmental.

Anxiety communicates relevant information to:

Yourself
“Anxiety can provide important information about a situation,” says Dr. Erikat. “Emotions can be signals or alarms that something is happening that needs your attention.”

For example, if your car makes a noise that is new, you become concerned and may pull over or get your car checked by a mechanic.

Other people
“Facial expressions and body language are hardwired aspects of emotions, including anxiety,” says Dr. Erikat. “These nonverbal cues communicate faster than words.”

These clues help us find support and they can be effective in building relationships. A study from the American Psychological Association found that moderate levels of embarrassment, due to emotions like anxiety, are vital in social situations, and people who experienced these emotions were more trusting in the eyes of their peers.

Sometimes, anxiety can feel overwhelming. These five tips to reduce anxiety can help. However, if anxiety is having a major impact on your life, it is important to seek professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help ease anxiety symptoms that interfere with daily life.

Sharp Mesa Vista offers a monthly Cognitive Therapy Lecture Series. If you are interested in learning more about how cognitive behavioral therapy can help you or a loved one, you can request information.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Suhair Erikat about tips for reducing anxiety, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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