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Your Healthy Family: Turning your anxiety into an asset

Posted at 8:21 AM, Sep 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-05 08:21:07-04

A lot of us get anxiety: we worry about something, our heart races, and we can't sleep. But what if we could turn our anxiety into an asset?

Millions of years ago, when humans were just evolving, we had anxiety. Researchers say it was a defense mechanism that gave us a fight or flight response, and protected us from predators.

"People want to kick anxiety out the door and the thing is, that anxiety is a normal human emotion. You're never going to get rid of it. It's always going to be there because it was there to protect us," Dr. Wendy Suzuki said. She's a Neuroscientist at New York University who wrote the book "Good Anxiety.

Dr. Suzuki explains how to turn this ancient response into an asset. First, she says turn your 'what if' list into a 'to do' list.

"What if I didn't study for that interview? What if I didn't prepare enough for that meeting that I have to have? It always hits me right before I'm going to go to sleep," she said. "I go back to sleep knowing that the next morning, I'm going to take each one of those items on my 'what if' list and I'm going to put an action on it."

Dr. Suzuki said to make a check list of your worries and assign a task to tackle each one. This will instantly make you feel more in control and help squash that feeling of anxiety.

"And the trick is you become more productive. At the same time you're turning your anxiety into productivity," she said.

Next, she said to give your brain a "bubble bath."

"One of my favorite tools that I've studied most deeply in my own lab at New York University is the effects of physical movement on mood," she said.

Dr. Suzuki says to take a ten-minute walk the next time you're stressed at work and you'll feel the results.

“I like to call it a bubble bath for your brain that you're giving yourself every single time you move,” she said. "Every single time you move your body, you are releasing a whole bunch of neurochemicals in your brain. Dopamine, serotonin, neuro-adrenaline. This is what makes you feel good."

Finally, she he says create an 'anxiety toolbox' and collect the tools that help turn down your anxiety levels. These are different for everyone: a technique for one person might be laughter, but for another it might be a massage. Dr. Suzuki said she liked to find way to turn her anxiety to empathy. When she was a child, she would tutor other kids in school.

"That is turning your anxiety into empathy and an act of compassion. And I love this because I can't think of anything we need in this world of high anxiety more than empathy," she said.

Dr. Suzuki said she hopes to shift the mindset when it comes to the word ‘anxiety’ from bad to good.