It’s hard to imagine the anxiety as something positive. What’s so good about feeling nervous, worried, with tightness in your chest? In Brazil, it is estimated that about 13 million people have anxiety disorders, a disease that impairs relationships, professional performance and the individual’s physical and emotional well-being.
But for Wendy Suzuki, neuroscientist and professor at the Center for Neural Sciences at New York University in the United States, anxiety can be a good emotion.
Rather than fighting it, Suzuki says that throughout her life she has used that emotion to be more productive, more optimistic, and ultimately more resilient.
The researcher, author of the book Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion (“Positive Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion”, in free translation), specializes in the study of brain plasticity and the transforming effects of brain physical exercise in mental health and cognitive development.
“Good anxiety refers to the fact that, from an evolutionary perspective, anxiety is designed to protect us from the dangers of this world,” Suzuki told BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish service.
The problem, according to Suzuki, is that we have “very high” levels of collective anxiety, which makes that anxiety lose a lot of its value.
“To get back to the beneficial protective functions of our anxiety,” says the expert, “we need to learn to lower the volume of our anxiety, explore what these uncomfortable feelings associated with our anxiety tell us about ourselves, and in doing so, learn more about us, our feelings and our emotional lives.”
In a recent article on CNBC’s Make it portal, Suzuki states that “the most powerful way to fight anxiety is to constantly work to build resilience and mental strength.”
To achieve this goal, the neuroscientist practices these six exercises daily and explains them in her own words.
1. Turn anxiety into progress
The plasticity of our brains is what allows us to be resilient in tough times: learn to calm down, reassess situations, reframe our thoughts and make smarter decisions.
It’s easier to take advantage of this when we remember that anxiety doesn’t always have to be bad. Review the propositions below:
Anger can block your attention and ability to perform, or it can drive and motivate you. But anger sharpens your attention and serves as a reminder of what’s important.
Fear can trigger memories of past failures. When this happens, it diverts your attention and hinders your performance. But it can also make you more careful with your decisions and help you think deeper and create opportunities to change course.
Sadness can affect your mood and put you off, but it can help you change your priorities and motivate you to transform your environment, circumstances, and behavior.
Worry can make you procrastinate and keep you from achieving your goals, but it can help you better re-evaluate your plans, adjust your expectations, and become more realistic so you can focus on achieving your goals.
Frustration can hamper your progress and detract from your motivation, but it can challenge you to improve.
These comparisons may seem simplistic, but they point to powerful options that produce achievable results.
2. Try something new
These days, it’s easier than ever to take a new class online, play a sport or participate in a virtual event.
Not long ago, I participated in a live Instagram workout with Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in which she used bottles as weights.
I’ve never done anything like this before. It turned out to be a fantastic and memorable experience.
My point is: for free (or for a low price) you can force your brain and body to try something you never considered before.
It doesn’t have to be training and it doesn’t have to be difficult; It could be something just above your level or outside your comfort zone.
3. Think about positive results
At the beginning or end of each day, think about all the uncertainties in your life today, including big and small.
Will I get a good performance review at work? Will my child adapt well to the new school? Will I get a positive response after the job interview?
Now take each of these situations and imagine the most optimistic outcome the situation can have.
Not just the good result, but “the best” possible result you can imagine. This practice allows you to practice the feeling of expecting positive results.
4. Communicate with other people
Being able to ask for help, staying close to friends and family, and cultivating relationships that encourage and support you not only help keep anxiety at bay, but also reinforce the feeling that you are not alone.
It’s not easy, but feeling that you’re surrounded by people who care about you is crucial in times of high stress, when you need to draw on your own resilience to persevere and maintain your well-being.
When we suffer loss or other forms of suffering, it is natural for us to withdraw. This type of behavior is noticed even in mourning animals.
However, you also have the power to approach the company of those who can help you take care of yourself.
5. Practice positive ‘auto-tweet’
Actor, playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner) has published a book in which he talks about the tweets he sends at the beginning and end of each day. They are essentially optimistic, fun, unique and charming little messages.
If you look at him in his interviews, you will see an intrinsically strong and optimistic person. How can you become so resilient, productive and creative?
Clearly, part of the answer is these positive reminders he writes. You don’t need to share them with others. The idea is to be encouraged to do this at the beginning and end of the day.
If you find it difficult, try to think of what an important person in your life (brother, friend, mentor, parent) would say to you and then write a short message or simply say it to yourself.
6. Immerse yourself in nature
Science has repeatedly shown that spending time in nature has positive effects on our mental health.
Some studies have found that it can significantly increase your emotional well-being and resilience.
You don’t have to live near a forest to immerse yourself in nature. A nearby park or any quiet green environment where there aren’t many people will work well.
Breathe, relax and become aware of sounds, smells and images. Use all your senses to create greater awareness of the natural world.
This exercise increases your overall ability to recover as it acts as a sort of energy restoration and restores balance.