How Can Anxiety be an Ability?

Updated: Jun 22

Anxiety disorders are classed as a disability, but in actual fact, they can offer a unique set of skills. Anxiety can make life a lot more challenging, especially when experiencing anxiety attacks but as they say ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’.

There are a lot of struggles that come alongside anxiety. One of the main things being that it stops you doing certain things; for some people it’s driving for others, it’s socialising. Either way, it affects your ability to live life to the fullest. It can stop you from doing things you want to do but also need to do.

When anxiety impacts your life so negatively, it’s easy to feel hopeless and isolated. That’s how I used to feel. Nobody really understands what you’re going through and it’s incredibly hard to explain it to others. You look normal to everybody else, until you start acting weirdly, and then they just assume it’s something you can help.

The thing is, over the past few years, I can see all the positive things anxiety has brought me.

1. Independence

This one is the most interesting one for me. When I was younger, I would always find comfort and almost a need to have someone with me wherever I went. However, social anxiety meant that I needed some space from people but it also meant that when I was suffering an anxiety attack, I would go for a walk (often by myself).

I was also put in a situation where somebody couldn’t accompany me. For example, when I first started university, I was by myself, and I had to go through the first week alone. Eventually I had support workers but in that first week, I found my own way around and managed to get through it. That raised my confidence and even though it was incredibly hard, I realised I could do it myself.

The anxiety I would experience also meant that I couldn’t be in lecturers all the time. Because of that, I would have to do most of my work at home, including recapping stuff from the lectures. That independent learning also boosted my confidence as I was succeeding despite my anxiety.

Now I know that I am able to do things by myself and don’t rely on others to guide me.

2. Efficiency

Being anxious meant that I couldn’t stay in places for long, especially if it was inside and quiet. However, I didn’t want to let anxiety stop me from doing everything so I would still attempt things. Being anxious meant that my awareness was heightened and I was able to focus most of the anxious energy into being productive. Because of that, over time, I became very fast at doing certain things.

Take my theory test for driving as an example. It is an exam environment and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it but I wanted to have the independence to drive so I went for it anyway. I practised loads so that I was confident on the knowledge side. When I was in the actual test, I just went for it. I would read the question once and then answer so that I could finish with it as quickly as possible. If I got it wrong, then it didn’t matter, I was just determined to finish it. Thankfully I got through it, very quickly, and passed!

That efficiency has stuck with me in my working life too. I focus and complete things as quickly as possible to make sure it is done. I will ask other people to check it if there is the opportunity.

3. Perceptiveness

People who suffer with anxiety are usually more sensitive and perceptive. They notice subtle changes around them or in people’s behaviour. This has meant that I am now able to notice when things are different which also means picking up on mistakes. This is helpful in my personal and professional life as it means that everything becomes more productive. If you can find a mistake and fix it before it becomes a problem, everybody is happy.

It has also helped in personal relationships. Being perceptive to people’s emotions means that you can have a more open and honest communication line. It also helps with making sure you can adjust your tone and actions not to provoke anything unnecessary.

4. Joy

This may sound contradictory considered how anxiety is seen as a negative thing but in actuality, since suffering with it, I have never felt more myself. I’m fully focused on the things I want to do and want to achieve in life. Because of anxiety, I have also come to realise how important joy is in everyday life. I made sure to reward myself for the little victories and that made every single day enjoyable for me, despite the severe anxiety.

5. True Friendships

Initially, when struggling with anxiety, I became more isolated which was incredibly difficult. It felt like people don’t understand you and don’t want the burden of being around you. However, over time, my true friends came to light. The friends who weren’t bothered about anxiety or even offered to help were there to support me along my entire journey. The other friends who were less supportive, are no longer in my life and there is no sense of loss for me or for them.

Having good friends in my life has meant that life itself is more fulfilling. We enjoy going and doing the same things, catching up and there is no sense of pressure. Now when I am with them, the anxiety is bearable if it’s even present at all.

As you can see, these are just some of the reasons that anxiety can be turned into an ability rather than just viewed as something that disrupts your life. It takes time for things to get better but once you see how it can benefit you, life becomes more enjoyable. You have the ability to focus on the things you want to without getting caught up in other things or sidetracked from your main life goals.

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