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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Can Anxiety Be a Good Thing?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 27th 2009

If you look up anxiety on Google, almost 100% of what you will find is promises to treat or cure your anxiety. Part of the problem with anxiety is that it is always interpreted as a negative experience. What happens is that even the slightest hint that anxiety is there can get the mind reeling that something terrible is upon you.

What if the mind was able to see things differently? What if the mind was able to notice the onset of anxiety and channel it in a way that could bring positive results?

Here is what you might notice:

  • Anxiety heightens our senses and may cause us to perform at our best in a given situation. Before getting up to give a presentation, a little anxiety may cause our thinking to get a bit crisper and we can more readily access information and field questions.

  • Anxiety can be a motivator to get things done. When we begin to worry about not getting things done, a little anxiety can give us the energy needed to spring to action and make it happen.

However, what often happens is our minds recognize a bit of anxiety and react with fear and worry, which intensifies it to a state of great anxiety, which hampers the benefits above to a place of debilitation.

One thing we can do when a cycle of worried thoughts, high anxiety, and a tense body is upon us is become aware that a stress reaction is occurring. Simple instructions, but not easy. So how can you do this?

Often times, the easiest way to do this is through awareness of your body. See if you can nonjudgmentally notice any tension in your body or tightening of your stomach. As soon as you notice this is occurring, you have momentarily stepped outside of it and from this place of presence comes a choice.

You can choose to practice coming to your senses for a moment just to further interrupt this stress cycle.

Then you may want to ask, how can I channel a little of this anxiety for benefit in this moment? Can I use it as motivation to get things done? Or maybe I just want to continue to practice coming to my senses, allowing myself to just be more present and grounded.

This is just another way of viewing the initial onset of anxiety and is not meant to be a complete treatment for anxiety disorders. However, rather than reaction with fear to initial anxiety, maybe it can be channeled for more positive agendas. This is something to consider as anxiety seems to more prevalent than ever these days. Have patience and compassion with yourself through this process as it takes practice.

How can anxiety benefit you? As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Great value in asking simple questions - kaudio - Aug 29th 2009

I recently thought of motivational stress and wondered how to use such stress productively.  People become anxious when they encounter matters that have unknown elements.  But, when one takes a moment to define what they want to accomplish, this serves as a basis for figuring out the next steps to take in order to succeed, mitigating the anxiety by filling in the gaps in imagination.  This message is repeated in many different ways by fans of GTD, but it takes practice in order to appreciate the benefits of this kind of thinking, and to motivate oneself in a productive way. 

The message of asking simple questions to raise awareness is so powerful, but as you suggest this easy activity can also be difficult to master.  A Google search for GTD illustrates the many bloggers who share their experience of the book, and how they often - sometimes obsessively - spend large amounts of time 'tweaking' their processing systems.  Much to their chagrin, these people are aware of the irony of this sort of activity because the very purpose of the GTD book was to enhance the productivity of the readers, not serve as additional material to 'tweak' as a new crutch for procrastination.

Certainly, I too share in this 'tweaking' as well.  I do not wish to give the impression that I have not spent time thinking about productivity in a manner that was not actually productive; but, I do want to make the point that it is a big leap as a human being who did not have any stress and focus management techniques to then learn to ask simple questions to manage his own stress and focus.  I spent years just going from one problem that was in my face to the next until I burned out, became tired, and moved on to the next thing.  This pattern of behaviour was set in for so very long that it also takes a long time to really reap the value of asking simple questions.

Even if this talk of GTD seems like snake oil, to simply ask oneself 'are you tensing up?' every so often is enough to raise awareness towards the body, and to explore what may be the cause of such tension. 

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