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Anxiety – Positive? Or Negative? By Jennifer Parker, LPCMH

Let’s rethink anxiety for a moment.  Not all anxiety is bad; sometimes it works in our favor.  Let me explain. Anxiety can be categorized as either positive or negative, but how do you know which category it belongs in?  In a metaphoric sense, think of anxiety as a huge mountain standing in your way. You want to get to the other side, but your anxiety, your mountain, is stopping you.  

The important questions to answer are, “What will I achieve by getting to the other side?” Is it worth the emotional investment and effort?” You can best answer these questions by asking some preliminary questions, such as, “What is the anticipated benefit or outcome? Can I resolve something? Find a solution? Solve a problem?  Is it worth it to navigate through the terrain on this mountain (anxiety) or not?” 

If the answer is “yes,” then you are likely dealing with positive anxiety.  A situation that ultimately benefits you or someone else is likely a mountain that you need to climb, an anxiety that you need to face.  

The example I like to give is someone who is learning to speak in front of a large audience. Feeling very anxious, at first, they are likely to experience sweaty hands, stumbling words, and a mind that goes blank. But by navigating through the anxiety, it is possible that the anxiety will dissipate over time and be increasingly replaced with more confidence. Think of positive anxiety as a mountain standing in the way of personal growth and opportunity.

The heart of the question is, “What is the benefit to climbing this mountain? Will the emotional effort lead to something sustainable?”  

If you believe the anxiety is worth addressing, then the goal becomes navigating through the anxiety; facing it and getting to the other side of the mountain.

How do you know when your anxiety is negative? What’s the difference between positive and negative anxiety? The difference is found in the response to the questions: “What is the benefit? What is the anticipated outcome? What can be gained?” If there is little to no benefit, then the anxiety is negative. 

Negative anxieties are situations that don’t resolve and don’t have a solution, no matter how much time you spend addressing it. When we try to resolve situations for which there are little to no solutions, it usually ends up increasing our anxiety and exacerbating our negative mood i.e., ruminating on past arguments, rehearsing past conversations, wishing we had said something when we had the chance, reviewing our mistakes, thinking on past offenses and regrets, etc. These are negative anxieties, situations that will cost more in emotional investment than what can be gained in personal growth. 

Having a negative anxiety doesn’t mean that you should ignore it; but it does mean that the emotional energy needed to navigate through the situation will likely be greater than the benefit gained.  However, a good therapist can offer you the support you need and help you navigate through your anxiety, whether positive or negative.  

If you need to explore negative and positive anxiety further, give us a call at 302-738-6859 to set up an appointment.  We’d be happy to help.

Take the next step. Call for an appointment.