I get anxious and stress about things at times. Butterflies flutter in my stomach and I sometimes lose sleep depending on how anxious I am. I can almost feel my mind racing during these times of stress. According to recent research, my brain may be working extra hard even in regular situations. The good news: anxiety can serve a purpose.
According to a recent LiveScience article, the findings of a Michigan State University study may help identify and treat anxiety disorders in women. For this study, led by psychologist Jason Moser, electrode caps were used to measure electrical activity in the brains of 79 females and 70 males. The study revealed that women who described themselves as anxious had more electrical activity in their brains during tasks compared to their more relaxed counterparts. The article notes that women are twice as likely as men to have anxiety disorders.
As the test progressed, anxious women did worse, which interfered with their tasks. In the article, Moser said, “Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries.” Researchers are looking into whether estrogen plays a role in overactive brain activity.
When I am consumed by a nervous thought it can take over my mind. My worry prevents me from thinking straight (though luckily for me it doesn’t reach the point of an anxiety disorder). There are times, however, when my anxiety motivates me to complete a task.
Case in point: This past May, I had to defend my thesis project for my master’s degree in front of a panel of advisors. To say I was nervous about this situation is an understatement—I was petrified. I spent days imagining what the panel would say about my work. I decided at the last minute that I wasn’t happy with the 70-page paper I spent three months writing and researching and was on edge about my PowerPoint presentation working properly on the projection screen. But through it all, the anxiety fueled my progress. Every time I wanted to stop, or got panicked to the point that I was ready to burst, I thought about how great it would be to complete the assignment that I had put so much work into. The nervous thoughts propelled me to do my best.
A recent Wall Street Journal article proves I’m not alone: a little anxiety is actually good for some people. According to the article, some researchers say that a moderate amount of anxiety can motivate people to succeed. Regulating anxiety can be difficult because we as humans imagine all types of disaster scenarios. Of course, as the LiveScience article also notes, anxiety disorders can cause problems in a person’s everyday tasks and functions.
In order for anxiety to motivate a person, the Wall Street Journal article states that anxiety must be turned into action. I have been on both sides of the fence where anxiety takes over my thoughts, and at other times, it allows me to prevail.