The Hidden Power of Anxiety: Reframing Anxiety as Motivation

Last updated: 04-02-2020

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The Hidden Power of Anxiety: Reframing Anxiety as Motivation

We often get trapped into thinking that we need to rid ourselves of all the stress and anxiety in our lives to be happy.

However, the truth is that small amounts of stress and anxiety can actually be very beneficial toward living a healthy life.

When we have anxiety, it means that we have a worry or concern about the future. This may appear to be a bad thing on the surface, but it can actually be a hidden motivator.

Healthy amounts of anxiety put pressure on you to focus, take action, and be productive. This is especially true when that anxiety is directed toward something that we have some power and control over.

The “Serenity Prayer” is always a great message to keep in mind…“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Anxiety as motivation is specifically focused on the “courage to change the things I can” line.

Here are a few examples:

In many ways, anxiety is an appropriate and useful response to various situations in our lives that we want to fix or change.

The important question to ask yourself is: “How can my anxiety motivate me to make a positive change? How can I channel this energy into action?”

Let’s learn more about how “anxiety” and “motivation” are related to each other.

One interesting experiment at the Emotion, Health, And Psychophysiology Laboratory at Harvard University examined how our beliefs about anxiety can have a significant impact on our lives.

Researchers studied undergraduates who were preparing for the GRE by taking a practice exam. They separated the students into groups, then told one of the groups that according to recent research anxiety has shown to help test-takers.

The study concluded that individuals who were told that their anxiety was beneficial ended up performing better on the exam.

These same individuals also reported an increased response in their sympathetic nervous system – a sign that they were more focused on facing a challenge head-on – similar to our “fight or flight” response.

Researchers believe that by thinking of anxiety in a different way we can channel our “nervous energy” into focus and motivation.

In fact, the benefits of this simple reframing of anxiety lasted a surprising long time: over a month later, students that received instructions that “anxiety was helpful for test-takers” also performed better on the real GRE.

And another study published in the Journal of Individual Differences discovered that those who viewed stressful events as challenges – rather than threats – gained energy from their anxiety and improved their performance.

Professional athletes, actors, musicians, comedians, and other performers often experience a wave of anxiety before a big game or big performance, but they understand that this is ultimately energy they can channel into focus and motivation.

With practice, you can channel your anxiety in the same way.

How we interpret the meaning of our experiences can make a world of difference in how we respond to them.

Biologically, anxiety and motivation are very similar – both are boosted when our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

However, the key difference between these two experiences is how we interpret our “boost in energy.”

When we see our boost in energy as something that is motivating or inspiring, then we can channel that energy into something positive and beneficial.

But when we see that boost in energy as fear or anxiety, then we usually try to fight that energy and it ends up wearing us down and inhibiting us.

Here’s more advice on how to harness the hidden power of anxiety in your daily life.

Of course, the main lesson of this article isn’t that all anxiety is good, but to show you that it can be a normal and healthy response to many situations in life. In the right doses, anxiety can serve a useful purpose in getting us to take action and be productive.

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