Have you ever had a friend who makes you want to tear your hair out, but you still can’t seem to shake off? Even though it would simplify life, most of us know that we can’t always escape our frenemies—or our anxieties.
A frenemy is someone who is both a friend and enemy, and who brings out the best and the worst in us. For example, our rivalry may fuel our competitive spirit and drive us to improve—or they can sabotage us and amplify our insecurities. They may drive us crazy, but for various reasons we either cannot—or don’t want to—escape them altogether.
Some say that maintaining such connections is more personally or socially beneficial than declaring such individuals to be full-fledged enemies; it’s supposedly easier to keep someone in check when you’re being nice. If you’ve ever had a frenemy, you know that managing this kind of love-hate relationship requires a bit of finesse.
Anxiety is a lot like a frenemy. It’s an inescapable part of life, but the problem is that many of us have an exclusively hate-hate relationship with it. We overlook any redeeming aspects that stem from it and lump everything into the Enemy column. But while it makes us uncomfortable, anxiety can also help us grow. It can serve as a motivating force, preventing us from becoming disengaged and propelling us into action. This becomes hard to remember when we are marinating in anxiety’s unsettling stew, but is essential to know so we can strategically harness the adrenaline it produces.
While frenemies are typically seen as enemies pretending to be friends, anxiety can be seen as a friend mistakenly disguised as an enemy. We almost always see stress and anxiety as destructive, but new research demonstrates that it is more of a friend than what we might suspect. A recent study by Daniela Kaufer at University of California-Berkeley demonstrates that stress can actually prime the brain for improved performance and focus.
Anxiety can also reflect our values. If we’re worried about something, it is often because we are tuned in to the ways our work and relationships are affecting us. In today’s challenging job market, the fact that we are anxious often demonstrates that we are in the mix and taking risks, and may simply find ourselves over-stimulated because we are so driven to deliver an impact. We often mistake anxiety as a moral failing or sign of weakness, when in reality it’s actually much more likely a sign of courage and conscientiousness.
For greater self-awareness and growth, understand how to make friends with anxiety’s helpful aspects, and how to manage its antagonistic side. To cultivate a healthier love-hate relationship with anxiety, we need to examine closely its opposing, distinctive characteristics:
The Friend Side:
The Enemy Side:
We can’t be casual about our relationship with anxiety: We have to take its destructive tendencies seriously, without dismissing its redeeming qualities. Like any relationship, when we better understand the positive and negative dimensions, we become more agile and better equipped to navigate the push and pull they bring.
Anxiety, like our frenemies, can propel us into action or leave us perpetually worried with our hearts beating out of our chest. Which aspects of anxiety bring out the best in you? Befriending this side can facilitate positive change. Is the enemy side of anxiety eroding your sense of confidence and well-being? If so, what actions can you take to set boundaries and shield yourself from taking the bait of the unhelpful advice it’s trying to feed you?
Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com