5 Ways Anxiety Can Actually Help You

It turns out that anxiety can be a superpower to make you more well-liked and successful than you actually think.

Woman holding head


Anxiety is often thought of as a troubling emotion or disorder. It’s a feeling that can keep you from taking chances, trying new things, and at its worst can even keep you from being successful at your daily routine. 

However, anxiety isn’t all bad; believe it or not, anxiety can sometimes be beneficial. Here are five ways that anxiety can actually benefit people.

Eustress: Eustress is positive stress. Yes, you read that right, positive stress. Most of us are familiar with distress, the negative aspects that we think of when we think about stress. Eustress is the opposite of that, producing excitement and inspiration about new things, like a new job assignment or traveling to new places. While these stressors can make you anxious (the stress and hassle of air travel, being somewhere you don’t speak the language), they can also give you the positive feeling of overcoming a challenge or meeting one’s goals.

Things Going Surprisingly Not Bad: Anxiety often causes your brain to dream up the worst possible outcome for a situation, so we tend to experience relief when things go well, or even just okay. Most of us are happy when we nail a presentation at work or school, but the feeling of elation may be enhanced when a bout of anxiety preceded our accomplishment. Adding to this is that anxious people are more likely to make helpful back-up plans that can save the day. For example, when organizing big events like weddings.

Graphic by Todd Smailes.

Stronger Memories: A 2018 study in the journal Brain Science revealed that a mild level of anxiety might actually improve memory. Since people with anxiety have a heightened sense of situational awareness, they’re able to remember more details than people without anxiety. Unfortunately, there’s also a downside: If you have too much anxiety, you might start to remember experiences and interactions more negative than they actually were. 

Strong Friendships: This one might not be apparent to people with anxiety, but their friendships are better than they suspect. In a 2014 study, scientists measured the friendships of 112 pairs of friends. People with social anxiety disorder thought their friendships were worse than average, but their non-anxious friends didn’t see any issue. In fact, these non-anxious friends were aware of their anxious pal’s troubles, which would certainly be beneficial to anxious people.

People Like You More:  Research has shown that expressing embarrassment — a familiar feeling for anxious people —  causes individuals to be thought of as more friendly and helpful. The 2012 study found that people prone to feelings of embarrassment were perceived as more generous than their less embarrassed counterparts, which in turn made people want to affiliate and share resources with them.

Michael Darling is a journalist in Los Angeles.