Handy Tool or False Alarm? When Anxiety Helps, and When It Hurts

Handy Tool or False Alarm? When Anxiety Helps, and When It Hurts

We all experience it.

Sometimes it’s fairly predictable, like the seasonal depression that arrives each year for many of us.

Other times, it catches us completely off guard.

We’re talking about anxiety.

Believe it or not, anxiety is actually an integral part of our human wiring.

When “normal” anxiety is doing its job, it can help improve our lives in lots of ways. Think of it as:

  • the car alarm that protects our valuables for us when we’re not watching.
  • the alarm clock that helps ensure we make it to that meeting on time.
  • the flashing sign announcing “DANGER!!” when we’ve wandered unwittingly into harm’s way.

But what about when our alert system goes haywire, sending off unnecessary warnings that confuse and frighten us?

When that happens, it may be time to seek additional support, and possibly anxiety treatment.

So, how do you navigate the differences between the anxiety that helps and the anxiety that hurts? Just follow these 3 steps:

1. Make friends with your unique brand of anxiety.

There’s a vast variety of people in the world, and a unique brand of anxiety to fit each one us.

The trick is getting to know yourself and the ways anxiety shows up in your life.

Maybe it’s your ability to think through every possible scenario, and plan accordingly.

Or your knack for keying into minute details that others overlook.

When it’s working well, anxiety helps keep us on time, safe, productive, and prepared.

Strange as it may seem, this type of anxiety is something to feel grateful for. Celebrate it!     

2. Be mindful of signals that your anxiety isn’t serving you well.

Though anxiety is designed to keep us safe, sometimes it malfunctions in ways that can actually make life more challenging.

It’s like a car alarm: Helpful when your car is being vandalized… not so helpful when a leaf falls gently onto the hood.

Or an alarm clock: Helpful when it wakes you up on time… not so helpful when it wakes you hourly throughout the night.

Or a flashing “DANGER!!” sign: Helpful if you’re approaching hungry bear territory… not so helpful if you’re approaching, like, a Tuesday.

You get the picture.

People with anxiety often notice some combination of the following:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, tense, or irritable
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

If you recognize any of these in yourself, it may be a signal that your body’s security equipment is actually making life more difficult for you. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a call to action.

3. Create an anxiety treatment plan of action.

So, your anxiety is getting in the way of living your best story?

Pardon the pun, but… no worries.

Anxiety is not only one of the most universal human experiences, it’s also one of the leading reasons why people seek support through therapy.

And good news: There are a variety of strategies you can use (starting right now!) to help put your anxiety treatment plan into action.


  • First things first: Know that the anxiety you’re experiencing is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it means your body is working overtime to keep you safe and productive!
  • Get serious about your self-care game. A consistent self-care plan is the secret sauce that will help you navigate periods of anxiety with greater ease.
  • Consider what you can add in: Quality rest (even naps count!), adequate hydration, well-balanced nutrition, consistent physical activity, and strong social support are all powerful factors in preventing and managing anxiety.
  • Identify what you can cut out: Stimulants (e.g., caffeine), depressants (e.g., alcohol), screen time (especially before bed), an overbooked schedule of commitments… get to know your anxiety triggers, and reduce (or eliminate) as needed.
  • Seek the support of a therapist for anxiety treatment.

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Therapy 101: 7 Signs You Might Benefit from Therapy
Seasonal Depression Treatment
The Trick Is Treating Yourself to Self-Care


Ready to connect with a therapist for anxiety treatment?