Why does anxiety exist and what is it trying to do for us?

So. First let's set aside Fear.  Fear is like anxiety but (for this conversation) fear relates to anxiety around things that are real.  Anxiety, in this conversation, concerns feelings about events, thoughts or beliefs that do not actually happen, but also do not actually NOT happen. This is the problem with anxiety: you rarely get to prove to yourself that something that makes you anxious isn't going to happen. 

The positive side of destructive, dysfunctional anxiety is that it lets you know that something isn’t going right and it motivates you to make changes that you otherwise wouldn’t make.

Anxiety appears to be an uncomfortable side-effect of our amazing ability to predict the future and plan for our best-possible outcome in that future.  But . . . and this is where it gets fuzzy . . . many articles about anxiety slip into referring to anxiety as the feeling you get before you take a test, which may be somewhat helpful, instead of the feeling that many people have just leaving the house (or insert other daily functional activity here).  

Distressing anxiety is entirely different than Eustressful anxiety.  Dysfunctional anxiety should not be confused with functional, normal, or even peak situationally-appropriate anxiety (fear). 

So if I'm not going to refer to Fear, nor non-dysfunctional anxiety, how do I talk about the positive side of anxiety? The positive side of destructive, dysfunctional anxiety is that it lets you know that something isn't going right and it motivates you to make changes that you otherwise wouldn't make.  It also helps you deflect focus from areas where your control to make change is limited.

Social anxiety and other situational anxieties do a wonderful job of motivating us to change our behavior. The problem with them isn't the motivation, it's usually the direction or object that the anxiety focuses on for the change that's incorrect.  For social anxiety, the issue may not be that someone really is that awful to have around, but it may be that the person with anxiety has to spend more time picking up on social cues that don't come easily to them or to their own need to recover and regain energy away from other people. Motivation=good. Objective=not so good. 

In my practice, I find it very hopeful to speak with someone about their anxiety, because the negative, uneasy, self-destructive thoughts and feelings that they are experiencing help keep them focussed and motivated to make changes. There are so many people in therapy who aren't ready or willing to change. But you out there with anxiety-you are motivated! Someone will come in, work really hard on their problems and even though the anxiety starts to go away, they find that working on their issues is important for their own reasons. Without the anxiety they may not have been forced to make changes. 

So. . . did I dodge the question or try to use a technicality to get out of the obvious: that anxiety isn't positive and even test anxiety doesn't help you do better. It's just a horrible side-effect of our brain not being that great and dropping a topic after it's no longer useful. 

For most anxiety, it actually limits our brain's ability to make cognitive-based decisions about situations, decisions which may lead to better outcomes because they aren't clouded by misdirected motivation. 

Enthrive North here to help sort this mess out with you.