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Using anxiety to your advantage

By: Steven Campbell
December 7, 2018

My open-heart surgery was rescheduled for December 12th. I had a slight cough the day before, and it turns out that a cough and a sawed-in-two sternum are NOT a good combination. 

Now again comes the waiting, and the anxiety. 

And if we let it, anxiety can feel like a private prison we carry around with us. Whether we fight it, give in to it, or simply try to avoid it, anxiety often feels like something that happens to us rather than within  us.  

In addition, trying to make it go away can only make it worse because we are concentrating on the anxiety, rather than its cause, and its solution. 

So here’s a New Way of Thinking! 

Rather than seeing your anxiety as a problem, think of it as a tool which leads you to a solution!  

To do so, start with the fact that anxiety is actually a neurological signal. This signal in our brain helps you look after the things you care about the most. In other words, your brain knows that you won’t care about things without feeling anxiety from time to time. 

Our daughters pointed this out to me last night. They informed me that December 12th is going to be one of the worst days of their lives, for it is the day when they open up daddy’s chest. 

I hadn’t realized that until they told me, and extreme anxiety appeared front-and center. 

However, it is this kind of extreme anxiety that can deplete our energy when we need it the most. It can also escalate into the kind of anxiety that is, well, debilitating, Extreme anxiety can actually get in the way of our living our lives, thinking straight, or taking care of things. 

In fact, extreme anxiety feels like it is managing you, rather than the other way around. 

However, moderate anxiety can be used for a lot of things: 

It can actually keep us on our toes! 

It can help us tend to those things we care about most. 

And it can nudge us toward our better selves. 

So here are 6 key ways from Alicia Clark’s article in the 12-2-18 edition of Psychology Today to use anxiety to your advantage rather than simply trying to tolerate it. 

1. Embrace, rather than resist it. Resisting anxiety adds anxiety to our anxiety, exponentially ratcheting it up to something that can quickly become unwieldy, and overwhelming. Instead, choose (and…yes again…it is a choice we can make) to embrace your anxiety as a neurological signal which is alerting you to something you care about. 

2. Get panic under control, Choose to change your mindset. Instead of fighting anxiety, choose to use it. 

I was raised in San Diego and surfed a lot when I was going to San Diego State University. I learned that when I saw a large wave approaching, rather than bracing myself, I used it to give me a marvelous ride. 

In other words, make the decision to let anxiety’s waves help you weather the storm of panic. 

3. Rely on its power to direct attention. Anxiety may have more to do with harnessing our attention than frightening us. Few resources are as limited as our finite attention, and we simply can’t afford to direct this precious resource indiscriminately. Did you know that we live more of our lives on autopilot than many of us realize, and anxiety operates as a backup system to wake us up to pay attention when needed. 

4. Name your anxiety. Research consistently shows that naming your emotions helps you manage and control your anxiety, even when you think it won’t. Simply translating your emotional experience into language powerfully changes your experience of it. Enact curiosity, and name your feelings to get control of them. 

5. Reappraisal: In naming your experience, you are also the architect of it. Don’t be afraid to stretch your experience toward the positive. Reframing fear into excitement has been shown to help people harness their arousal for positive outcomes when it comes to public speaking. How might you be eager, excited, or motivated, rather than scared and anxious? You have more control than you think when it comes to translating your anxiety.  

6. Seize the inherent motivation of anxiety. Anxiety produces a desire to do something. When your children were babies, didn’t their cry motivate you like nothing else to find a solution to make him stop! 

This is how anxiety is designed. 

If we don’t waste its energy fighting with ourselves, we can use it to propel action towards our goals. Sometimes anxiety can give us that final push to meet a goal. 

As you can see, anxiety can keep us focused on the things that matter most in our lives. It reminds us when situations need our attention, and motivates us to find those solutions. It doesn’t have to be a curse, and actually can be used to make our lives better if we resist the trap of fighting or fearing it. 

And while anxiety is one of our most basic emotions, it can also become one of our deepest friends. In fact, there are very few emotions which challenge us to be at our best, protect the things that matter most to us, and won’t take “no” for an answer? 


Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available on line at  For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.