Title: Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion | Author, Dr Wendy Suzuki | 2021
We generally think of anxiety as something to get rid of. Understandably, since anxiety, given its purpose, comes with a level of discomfort. But the book explains that anxiety is a powerful tool we can all tap into for self-improvement The first step, understand how anxiety works in our brain and body, and with this knowledge, we can better control it and use it to our advantage.
Author Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist, stays away from too many scientific details but the reader still gets a good understanding of the neurological processes associated with anxiety. In short, the book provides a leisurely read. But perhaps the heart of Good Anxiety are the stories of how people from all walks of life successfully turned bad anxiety into good anxiety, including the author.
Some of the main questions the book answers: What is anxiety? How can we manage it? What types of abilities do we gain when we learn to manage it?
What is Anxiety?
At its core, anxiety can be explained as an arousal and activation of both brain and body when they encounter negative stimuli or stress.
But here’s the thing:
The body does not know the difference between stress caused by real factors and stress generated from imagined or hypothetical situations.
Comparing how modern-day humans deal with perceived and real stress to our ancestors, our complex society has more imagined threats, which leads to anxiety mode.
Anxiety exists in a continuum, from general anxiety disorder (GAD) to post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD. Moreover, anxiety has a purpose. We experience anxiety so we can “draw our attention to something that is important”. When we settle into the discomfort anxiety gives us and start listening to it, we open ourselves to opportunities.
However, when we use maladaptive strategies to cope with anxiety (drinking or retreating from the world), then it can lead to states of depression, isolation, unhappiness, lack of motivation, and unproductiveness.
How Can We Manage Anxiety?
According to the book, those who turn anxiety into good anxiety have high resilience, mental, emotional, and physical. And the good news, all of us can build resilience when we:
- Think flexibility and not let our failures define us.
- Acknowledge that we need others and know when to ask for help.
- Seek out pleasure and sources of enjoyment.
- Challenge ourselves.
- Give ourselves time and space to relax, exercise, and sleep well.
- Take on an activist mindset: We have an activist mindset when we choose to take our anxiety and channel it to our advantage. They key concept here is choice. We have to actively choose the path that works for our overall wellbeing. Channeling anxiety can mean reassessing a situation in a different light or point of view. Believing that our brains, intelligence (emotional and social) can be improved upon by learning from experiences, and to be open to change.
There are quite a few stories highlighting the benefits of listening and problem-solving anxiety. Micheala, a freelance writer, pinpoints the source of her anxiety and addresses it. Adam, an introvert, discovers the power of community in addressing his fears. Jared, suffering from acute anxiety and long-term depression, ends up appreciating his parents’ tough love, which allowed him to to build a life he wanted.
Aside from mental and physical wellbeing, good anxiety can elicit a creative mind. According to Dr. Suzuki:
Creativity connects the emotional and cognitive process that help us become more comfortable with our anxiety; what’s more, the creative process can actually be a release valve for that anxiety as we practice converting it into something beautiful.
The book empowers us to take control of how we feel and react to our world. In our fast-paced society, our gadgets and apps constantly try to vie for our attention. Ads and influencers constantly remind us of what we need and what we should fear. More than ever, we need mechanism to help us deal with the choices and what-ifs.
What I appreciate about the book is the focus on self-reflection. Like anxiety, self-reflection at its core is uncomfortable. It uncovers parts of our lives and ourselves that we probably want to change or not so proud of. But the strength to face them and fix them takes courage. The book reminds us that the process of self-reflection itself benefits us cognitively. We train our minds to better handle stress, fear, and whatever discomfort we may feel. Brain plasticity refers to how our minds continue to grow and change, as we develop new neural pathways. Choosing to let this beautiful process work for us and not against us, takes some discomfort. But in the end, it allows us to experience good anxiety.
This cognitive training reminds me of yoga. During practice, we hold poses not only for the physical benefit, but as an exercise for the mind. We breathe deeper, focus on the discomfort, know the line between being kind to your body and hurting it, and after the experience, we come out of the pose invigorated, changed, and a stronger person.