Anxiety can be crippling, but sometimes it is a crucial part of getting the best out of yourself.
Artists, comedians, athletes and other performers often talk about the right amount of anxiety and how it can improve creativity and performance.
But anxiety also has a number of lesser known upsides…
1. People will trust you more
People who are feeling anxious can easily get embarrassed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because research shows people are more trusting.
Dr. Robb Willer, the study’s author explains:
“Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue.
Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight.
Embarrassment is one emotional signature of a person to whom you can entrust valuable resources.
It’s part of the social glue that fosters trust and cooperation in everyday life.”
2. Fewer fatal accidents
Anxious people often say they are less likely to be injured because they are thinking ahead, but is that really true?
Apparently it is.
One study has found that anxious adolescents are considerably less likely to be killed in an accident than their less anxious peers.
The authors explain:
“Our results suggest there are survival benefits of increased trait anxiety in early adult life, but these may be balanced by corresponding survival deficits in later life associated with medical problems.”
In other words: anxiety may get you down in the long-term but it keeps you alive.
3. Stronger memory
People who are anxious often think their memory is poor: they tend to deliberate longer over their decisions, questioning themselves and running through multiple scenarios in their minds.
Still, studies show their memories are not as bad as they think:
“…high-anxious individuals have unrealistically low confidence in their memory, especially when correct, and that allowing additional encoding time does not alleviate the effect.
Taken together, this series of experiments shows that individuals with high levels of anxiety take longer to evaluate their memorial decisions, suggesting that they engage in more post-mnemonic evaluation than their low-anxious peers.”
4. Better results in tests (sometimes)
Sometimes anxiety can have a positive effect on performance, as long as it’s not too much anxiety.
Another crucial factor — especially for exam success — is having a reasonably good memory.
One study has found that people who have good memories and who get anxious do better in exams.
Dr Matthew Owens, who led the study, said:
“The research is exciting because it enhances our knowledge of when, specifically, anxiety can have a negative impact on taking tests.
The findings also suggest that there are times when a little bit of anxiety can actually motivate you to succeed.”
5. Good friends
People with social anxiety disorder can find it difficult to make friends, but they are seen more positively by others than they imagine.
A new study finds that while social anxiety sufferers think their friendships are not of the highest quality, their friends are much more positive.
Dr. Thomas Rodebaugh, one of the study’s authors, said:
“People who are impaired by high social anxiety typically think they are coming across much worse than they really are.
This new study suggests that the same is true in their friendships.”
6. Not appearing that anxious
It might feel like everyone can see exactly how anxious you feel, but that’s not necessarily the case.
People who have serious anxiety disorders consistently overestimate their symptoms in comparison to objective tests.
Severely anxious people, studies show:
- do not sweat as much as they think,
- their hands do not shake as much as they imagine,
- and their breathing is not as erratic as it seems to them.
7. More fun
When thinking about almost anything, anxious people are prone to expect the worst.
However, socially anxious people often enjoy social occasions much more than they expect.
One study had people predict how much they would enjoy a group celebration on St. Patrick’s Day.
This found that socially anxious people consistently underestimated how much fun they would have.
8. The human race needs anxious people
Not only are there some personal upside to anxiety, but anxious people may also benefit the human race.
Some scientists think that worry and intelligence co-evolved as beneficial traits.
Dr. Jeremy Coplan, the study’s author, explains:
“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.
In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates.
Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”
How to deal with anxiety
None of this is to diminish what can be a seriously debilitating condition for some people — rather to point out some upsides.
Here are some further resources for understanding and dealing with anxiety:
- 8 Fascinating Facts About Anxiety
- How to Deal With Stress and Anxiety: 10 Proven Psychological Techniques
→ Get Dr Jeremy Dean’s new anxiety ebook.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Stephen Poff