When Anxiety is Bad

Human emotions all serve a purpose, even the ones we may label as “bad.” A Washington Post reader recently wondered why his high energy level, which helped him be more productive at home and work, also caused unpleasant edginess. His question pinpoints the double-edged sword of nervous energy that’s useful, but also causes anxiety symptoms when it gets excessive.

Anxiety’s Purpose

Anxiety is sometimes helpful because it’s part of the same nervous system arousal as excitement, stimulation, and general energy, Dr. Andrea Bonior explains in the Washington Post column. Anxiety is the body’s way of putting us on alert and preparing us to deal with a crisis. When it happens without accompanying fear and dread, it helps us deal with the problem.

According to Dr. Tracy Foose, anxiety is a problem when it’s accompanied by pervasive fear. Rather than surrounding the immediate situation, the fear is anticipatory. It makes you worry about bad things that could happen rather than allowing you to focus on the present.

Use your anxiety by separating it from fear and reframing it as a sign that you’re ready for the challenge ahead. Dr. Foose says that a study of students with test-taking anxiety showed that their nervous energy could be harnessed into better test performance. Unfortunately, not everyone can easily harness their anxiety in this positive way.

When Anxiety Turns Bad

Anxiety is bad when its symptoms interfere with your everyday life and activities. For example, concentration problems are a common symptom. When you can’t focus and concentrate on a situation, you can use your nervous energy to deal with it effectively.

Fatigue is another common anxiety symptom that has negative effects. Anxiety often makes it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep, meaning that you’re not properly rested. This contributes to the restlessness that often stems from anxiety and reduces your ability to function. That restlessness and edginess also distracts you from dealing with problems or even everyday life.

Irritability is another hallmark of anxiety that leads to bad results. When you’re on edge, it’s hard to deal with others because you’re easily annoyed. That may cause them to pull away from you at a time when you need support.

Severe Symptoms

Severe anxiety is often accompanied by symptoms, like persistent worry, anger, an inability to relax, trouble sitting still, and a sense that something terrible is going to happen. Physical symptoms include sweating, nausea, muscle tension, headaches, a pounding heart, and a feeling of suffocation. When the problem gets this bad, you have an anxiety disorder that needs treatment.

According to WebPsychology, counseling and drug therapy are both effective against anxiety symptoms. Your doctor or counselor can help you decide which option is best, or whether you need a combination approach.

You probably already know whether your anxiety is bad enough to need treatment. If you’re not sure, use this screening test on WebPsychology to make your determination.