We all get anxious sometimes: first-date butterflies, taking a test worth 33% of our final grade, or driving away from home only to wonder if we really turned off the stove. Most of the time, these everyday worries pass.
But if you have an anxiety disorder, daily worries can take over your life. From work performance to social interactions and everything in between, an anxiety disorder can leave you feeling nervous, fearful, agitated, and constantly on edge. Luckily, therapists can help those who suffer from anxiety disorders learn to cope with symptoms, and address habits caused by anxiety.
Understanding these habits is the first step toward living happily and healthily with an anxiety disorder. And the news isn’t all bad: Many of the habits people with anxiety express can actually be good qualities if channeled in the right way. Here are some common habits of people with anxiety, and how you can find your secret strengths inside of these behaviors.
You’re constantly thinking of what can go wrong
If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re familiar with the seemingly endless parade of thoughts that go through your head. It’s as if your brain catalogues every last thing that can go wrong in every possible situation. Many people with anxiety feel they have little control over these kinds of thoughts — which can be totally exhausting.
Surprising Benefit of Worrying
While excessive worry can prevent you from trying out new opportunities, some alertness about potential dangers has its benefits. Researchers have found that people with anxiety are actually better at responding to threat than people without anxiety, since their brains process threat more efficiently. This has positive effects: As one study showed, people who have anxiety actually do avoid fatal accidents more than people without anxiety.
Whenever worry about what could go wrong starts to get you down, remind yourself that you’re actually more capable of dealing with threat than other people. Think of a time when everything did go wrong and of how capably you handled it. Even if things do go wrong again, you’ll be able to deal with it — maybe even better than non-anxious people.
You Worry About What Other People Think of You
For people with social anxiety, normal social situations like meetings or parties can be super intimidating. You may obsess about how other people perceive you or worry that you’ll make a fool of yourself in front of everybody. These fears are inaccurate — the reality is that you’re doing just fine! But anxiety can even prevent you from enjoying social time with others and may tempt you to isolate yourself.
Surprising Benefit of Social Anxiety
While caring so much about what other people think of you can be exhausting, it shouldn’t hold you back from daily activities. There are also benefits to being highly sensitive. Researchers have found that people with social anxiety are more empathetic than those without, and have increased ability to understand other people’s emotions.
Remind yourself that other people’s opinions won’t make or break you, and that most people are self-conscious. Remember that your empathy actually makes you better at dealing with other people, not worse. Direct those empathic skills into building healthy, caring relationships with the people around you. Use your empathic powers to remind your loved ones that you care: Bake them a cake, take them on a nice date, or write them a love letter.
Your thoughts spin around and around the same few topics, and you can’t seem to get out of their grasp. This is rumination, a thought pattern wherein several thoughts constantly repeat themselves. Rumination can make people who suffer it feel trapped in their own minds. Yet it’s also a sign of depth of thought, and when channeled correctly it can be a helpful quality.
Surprising Benefit of Rumination
You have high intelligence! Several studies have shown that people with anxiety tend to be more intelligent than people without. Rumination may be frustrating to experience, but it’s also correlated with high verbal intelligence. In fact, lots of famous writers and intellectuals grappled with anxiety — and hey, you could be one of them!
Think about which cues cause you to ruminate. Do particular situations or encounters tend to send your thoughts spinning out of control? Use that high verbal intelligence to keep a diary observing your own thoughts and behavior, in order to understand what sets you off. And rather than using those verbal skills solely for coping with worry, why not try using them in a creative project?
Focus on the Positive
In the moments when fear keeps you from entering a social gathering, or when an obsessive thought won’t leave your head, we know it doesn’t feel like there are any upsides to anxiety. However, everyone deserves to live their daily lives without suffering constant stress.
Criticizing yourself for your anxiety only makes things worse. So next time you begin berating yourself for being anxious, remember that having anxiety doesn’t make you lesser than anyone else — in fact, quite the opposite. It means you’re intelligent, conscientious, detail-oriented, and you respond well to crisis. By recognizing the good things your anxiety reveals about you, and reaching out to a therapist to help change the rest of what holds you back, you’ll be increasingly able to embrace the moment—and yourself.