Let’s talk about how anxiety is a superpower, not an illness…
They say anxiety is an illness. Something to fix, overcome, ignore, or suffer through. Until very recently, we suffered in silence – afraid to share our struggles, or unaware of what all our messy thoughts and feelings and emotions even meant.
Now, wonderfully, many of us feel free to speak up. To seek help. And to see anxiety as something we experience – not something we are (big distinction there, peeps).
But there’s still some way to go. The stigma is still simmering. So I’m issuing a call to arms. An uprising of worry warriors! Let’s rip open our shirts, stand tall, and embrace anxiety as our superpower!
Anxiety is NOT a weakness, or anything to feel ashamed about. You’re not a lesser, broken person because you worry a lot – or because you need time to retreat and turn inwards.
You’re fricking strong!
Every day, you rise from bed and face the day. You get shit done. You see the road ahead and anticipate all the bumps and humps and dead-ends you might encounter – then plot all the ways to navigate around or through them.
Others may see an impenetrable, stoic shell – someone who doesn’t need help, who’s perfectly capable of coping on their own. Little do they know you’re fighting a daily battle to keep your mind clear, to stay strong and carry on.
Now, tell me how is that a weakness?
How is that illness?
That ain’t sickness, warrior. That’s strength!
Need a little more convincing? Aiight. Check out these incredible leaders who are reported to have had anxiety:
Check it: the 16th US President, nicknamed ‘Honest Abe’ because of his no-nonsense approach to problems, was said to have experienced severe anxiety disorders and attacks throughout his life. It’s reported he also had suicidal thoughts, and that “his melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”
The creator of the ‘Peanuts’ comic (and the beloved characters Snoopy and Charlie), Shulz was a creative genius with anxiety. He said in one interview, “I have an awful sense of impending doom.”
His wife Jean added:
“Part of what puzzles people about [Schulz] was that he talked about the actual physical sensation that he had from being anxious, the ‘sense of dread’ when he got up in the morning. But he had a Buddhist acceptance of life and its ups and downs. He functioned perfectly well.”
Oh how I adore this woman. A true Hollywood firecracker, Emma Stone is the world’s highest-paid actress. She’s spoken openly about her experiences with anxiety and panic attacks. But she’s chosen to channel it into her craft:
“There’s something about the immediacy of acting. You can’t afford to think about a million other things. You have to think about the task at hand. Acting forces me to sort of be like a Zen master: What is happening right in this moment?”
How to switch on your superpower
The list goes on: Barbra Streisand, Adele, Lady Gaga, Emily Dickinson, Vincent van Gogh, Nikola Tesla, Mozart, Charles Darwin…all are worry warriors who embraced anxiety, and went on to do wonderful things and make a remarkable impact.
Now, let’s not sugar-coat it. I’m sure, like the rest of us, they didn’t just breeze through life or wake up every morning singing, “Tra la la, oh how I adore you, Anxiety!”
Either through direct quotes or third-person accounts, we can see that some of the world’s most prolific people had to find a way to move with their mind, to dance with their worries, and to use it as fuel for their fire.
As anxiety author Sarah Wilson writes in First, we make the beast beautiful:
I’d say anxiety creates resilience to thrive in this life. Anxiety is a beautiful thing.
So how can you do the same?
I don’t have a concrete answer. But I’m wondering: does it help having a higher purpose? A burning passion to pursue something bigger than one’s self?
Whether it’s knitting jumpers for rescue penguins, writing music, or making jam, can narrowing our focus on one dream or interest help channel all that nervous energy into something meaningful?
For me, it’s writing. Being in or under water (swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling) also sharpens my mind, and opens it up to a profound level of mindfulness that I haven’t yet found in any other pursuit.
So, ponder your pleasures, your purpose, your passions. Find something that you can lose yourself in, even just for a little while.
Beyond that, let’s keep speaking up. Speaking out. Sharing our experiences. And supporting each other to turn struggles into superpowers.
Every day, you can wake up and choose to be a warrior. You can choose to deal the best you can with the world and what’s in your head. You won’t always feel fired up, and some days you’ll wonder how to press on.
But the important thing is that you do keep marching. That you take tiny steps to make sense – heck, to make friends – with your mind.
Because who knows what kind of impact that can have on the people around you. And on the world.
Do you think anxiety is a superpower? Let’s start a conversation below. x