Your Anxiety Serves a Purpose

Your anxiety is there to protect you. But when it goes into overdrive, it holds you back.

Fearlessness is generally an admirable quality. I don't feel that way often, but it's fun when I do. It helped me convince myself to go zip-lining while traveling in Costa Rica, even though I was super anxious. Overcoming my nerves and going for it was exciting. I tried to act calm, but the truth is - I should have been nervous! If I had zero anxiety, I wouldn't have held on tight to the flimsy handrails on the way up, or triple-checked my dorky helmet. I would have been like those three teenagers ahead of me who seemed to have no problem with the height, the distance, or the "you could get stuck in the middle and have to pull yourself to safety" part. Whatever, kids! I still did it.

There are times when we should be a little scared. Hiking along beautiful cliffs? Meeting with a blind date? Heading into a job interview? That excited feeling is the little bit of anxiety that protects us. It tells us to watch where we're going, feel the other person out, or to prepare as much as we can. Without it, we're just Wile E. Coyote out here stepping on rakes.

I tell my clients to think of anxiety as your body's security alarm. It's quiet most of the time, but it will go off if something doesn't seem safe. That's what it's there for! When you get nervous, irritable, feel on edge, have trouble sleeping, or become easily distracted, that's your body trying to tell you something isn't right. Many of us treat those signals the same way we treat the 2:00 AM car alarm on the street: We ignore them. 

The thing is, the more that alarm gets ignored, the more sensitive it becomes. It starts to go off more frequently. Smaller and smaller things will set it off. It starts to get louder each time. Same goes for our body. While that alarm is going off, you're less likely to make decisions that keep you safe. Have you ever tried to make complex decisions in the midst of a fire drill? That's what's going on in your body.

People who have been through traumatic experiences can start to feel like they're starting to attract more trauma. They find themselves in the same type of negative relationship, even though they promise it won't happen again. Drivers who have one automobile accident are more likely to have a second. It's not necessarily because they seek it out, or aren't paying attention. Sometimes it's because they have trouble distinguishing subtle signs of safety vs. danger. Partly because that alarm is going off non-stop. 

When your body is trying to tell you something: Listen. If all it takes is getting your sleep schedule back on track, or setting limits on how much time you spend with certain people, take those small steps to take care of yourself. The safer you feel, the more courageous you'll be.

A little bit of anxiety can motivate you. If you notice that it's starting to get in your way instead, call (562) 704-4736 for a free consultation to find out how therapy may help. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals and couples of all genders and orientations.

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