The first time I had an anxiety attack, I was 22 and thought I had the flu. It seemed to come at me from out of nowhere.
When the dizziness and disorientation dragged on, my doctor diagnosed me over the phone. Turns out it was a garden variety panic disorder triggered by a major life transition — from college to “adulting.”
Three decades, excellent therapeutic help, and a daily meditation practice later, I now love my anxiety. It’s my most reliable barometer for navigating change.
The DL on high anxiety
More importantly, how could this awfulness be a benefit?
Well, anxiety is there to help us survive. Problem is, times have changed more than our brains have. Your limbic system, often referred to as your lizard brain, uses the amygdala as a communications hub to brain explain incoming signals and alert you to real or perceived threats.
When the danger is authentic — say, an angry rattlesnake on a trail you’re hiking — the fight or flight instinct is a good one. But when it’s merely a perception of danger (like the fear of public speaking), this primitive response can backfire.
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom ~ Søren Kierkegaard
The Yerkes-Dodson Law says that too much or too little arousal/anxiety can mess with your performance, depending on the task at hand. Overdo it for an intellectual undertaking and you risk becoming paralyzed by fear; under do it for endurance-driven goals like running a race, and you might not have enough motivation to make it.
When an emotionally driven storms kick up, anxiety is an excellent way to gauge your next right action. Just let your primal reptilian commander alert you to the storm, then use your rational brain to steer the ship to new shores.