We’ve all been there.
You have a deadline coming up- a presentation. You can’t think straight, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat. Your heart beats faster than usual, you can’t focus on one single thought, your breathing is irregular.
You feel tense, nervous. You have anxiety.
Though anxiety is not something to be taken lightly- and it is quite common to find that heightened feelings of anxiety can actually be classified as an anxiety disorder- small, manageable levels of anxiety can actually be used to your advantage.
It sounds like a misnomer- how can something that is harmful to the point that it completely takes away your productivity actually be used to your advantage.
And no, it is not just learning to manage it so that your anxiety lessens. We’ve all tried that, and it doesn’t always work.
I learned the secret throughout my college years when I was always doing multiple things all at once. I was a student, a teacher, a tutor, an assistant. I took on multiple roles and oh, the deadlines and time crunching and the pressure! It led to anxiety galore.
Yet I still managed to complete my tasks. After high school (which was pretty laid back in my days), I was bombarded with all these responsibilities that I immaturely, giddily took on for myself. At first, I was flailing- I didn’t know what to do. My first grades flopped, my boss was on my back, my room was a mess, I hadn’t done laundry in a month.
When I got my first C in my life (gasp!), I decided that enough was enough. I had tried all that the tried and tested techniques out there to manage my anxiety. Breathing exercises, But I found in the end that what was leading to my anxiety was two major things (and no, not the number of tasks I was juggling).
The first thing causing my anxiety was my innate perfectionism, and desire to do everything perfectly. I always thought it was a bad thing and tried my best to lessen the pressure on myself to be perfect. To do so, I started procrastinating more than I ever thought I could, to the last second of every assignment and deadline.
Procrastination was the second thing I realized was causing my anxiety.
When I tried battling these two things and saw that they just weren’t budging, I was constantly in a state of depression. I was unhappy and frustrated and thought my anxiety would ruin all the goals and dreams I had for my life.
One day, my mom hosted a get together at our home and I reluctantly sat with her friends while they drank tea and talked about life (read: my mom dragged me out of my binge-watching session of Netflix wrapped in blankets on my bed). One of her friends saw my face, and without bothering to ask what was wrong, she gave me a piece of advice that I would never forget.
She told me that no matter the situation, it can’t be worse than those who don’t have a roof over their heads or food to eat. Whatever situation that isn’t working for you or is making you depressed, try to find the positive in it and look at it from a different angle. Essentially, she told me to try to be thankful for whatever situation I was unhappy with, and use it to your advantage, rather than trying to change it.
When I slumped back to my bed a bit taken aback from such uncalled for, unsolicited advice I wrapped myself into blankets and pressed play on Netflix once more- and then it hit me.
I kept trying to change my anxiety and get rid of it. What if instead, I tried to use the things that were causing it to my advantage, rather than trying to eliminate those things altogether?
With that realization, my attitude changed about my anxiety, and sooner than I expected, my problems changed for the better.
If I was being a perfectionist, I could let myself be one. Instead of trying to be content with mediocrity, I would embrace the desire for perfection and put my heart and soul in my work.
If I was procrastinating, I could make a deadline for myself for the absolute last moment I can get my work done.
The feelings of anxiety, I could convert to feelings of excitement and adrenaline rushing through my veins. I would take it as a passion and motivation for my job, rather than nervousness about the jobs that needed to be done.
When I finally learned to embrace my feelings of anxiety and what caused it, and translated the way I defined those feelings into something positive, I found my heart, soul, mind, and passion present in everything I did.
My heart was beating fast, my breathing was irregular, I couldn’t sleep. I used these feelings to fuel my work.
My grades, my presentations, my boss’s feedback could have never been better.
And all because I redefined what my feelings of anxiety meant to me, and used them to my advantage.