Is Anxiety Always A Bad Thing?

Is Anxiety Always A Bad Thing?

We frequently hear that being perpetually anxious is a sad state of affairs in society today.

It's worth discussing if this statement is factually accurate, and if so, what if anything can we do about it? Our first task is to dispel the notion that anxiety is always a bad thing. In our study of Resilient Leadership, we've identified two types of anxiety: chronic and acute. We've defined "chronic anxiety" as an abiding sense of unease about imagined or anticipated threats. The key term here is "abiding," never absent, because anxiety is quite literally essential for our survival. It's around us and within us, but we can never "see" it directly. It is constantly swirling beneath our level of conscious awareness and because we can't "see" it, it is something we feel unconsciously but often do nothing about. "Acute anxiety" is a transient state of unease in the face of a current threat. It's a temporary psychological and physiological state of heightened anxiety that is provoked by an immediate situation that is perceived as threatening. Unlike chronic anxiety, people can be and generally are consciously aware of being in a state of acute anxiety.

Acute anxiety, by definition, will typically have an initiating event or condition and then a resolution.

For better or worse, acute anxiety generally passes. Chronic anxiety as we've defined it is abiding and unconscious. Being unconscious, or "unseen," it frequently goes unaddressed. This is why constantly being anxious gets a bad rap. This is also where our opportunity for growth and understanding lies.

Most neuroscientists would agree that 95 to 99 percent of our day to day behavior is the result of instinct or habit rather than intentional choice.

So the first step is to ask yourself which areas of your life are causing you anxiety. Next, evaluate your "reactions" to the circumstances in your life. Understand your thoughts, feelings, actions and interactions with these anxiety producers. Pay attention to the physical signals your body is sending you.

Is your breathing quicker and more shallow, is your stomach in knots, are your shoulders and back tense, are you perspiring more? These are all indicators of a physical reaction to anxiety. If the areas you've identified pair with a physical reaction - that is where you begin to "see" and understand your chronic anxiety.

Future editions of this blog will help us identify and manage the causes that underlie these physical responses to stress that you've identified.

Here are three ideas to help you stay calm in anxious situations:

  1. When you are anxious, focus on your breath (shallow breathing raises blood pressure and tension in muscles.) Take three slow, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can do this seated or standing, and no one needs to know you're doing it. But your body will appreciate it!
  2. Do a quick fact check: am I in physical danger? Chances are very good the answer is no. Our brain reacts to a physical threat and an emotional threat in the same physiological manner. Simply being aware that you're not actually in physical danger, combined with conscious breathing, will help you begin to calm your anxious self down.
  3. Develop a repertoire of activities that create physical and emotional well being. Regular physical activity, even just walking 20 minutes most days, combined with centering activities like meditation, yoga or a mindfulness practice will allow you to respond more calmly to anxious situations.

Check back weekly to learn more about anxiety and how we can effectively manage it. For now, make it a habit to practice these three basic techniques to manage anxiety and you will be on your way to being calmer and more in control of your life!

Remember to “stay calm, stay the course and stay connected!”

Mike Nowland

Mike Nowland
To learn more about self-differentiation and reducing chronic anxiety and doubt with Resilient Leadership concepts, contact Mike at

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