Can There Be Good Anxiety? - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

Anxiety is one of those things that a lot of people talk about, but few have a full understanding of what anxiety is and whether there can be good anxiety.  

Anxiety can be likened to depression. Like depression, anxiety can be paralyzing and debilitating. Basically, it can suck. Anxiety is also like depression in that it can manifest in hidden ways. After some detective work, we may find it to be the culprit for negative behavior. We blame kids, in particular, for a lot of “bad” behavior that is actually anxiety being expressed in not-so-great ways.

Knowing something is anxiety gives us more ways to help that kid—or ourselves—when our usual response is criticism and punishment.

What is Good Anxiety?

Unlike depression, there are some healthy levels of anxiety. While depression can be expected and unavoidable at times, there’s rarely much “good” that comes from it. But there really is GOOD anxiety.

The not-so-good-anxiety is the anxiety that stops us from doing anything, or that keeps us stuck.

Knowing the difference is crucial. It’s like stress: there’s an optimal level that keeps us motivated, that challenges us, that keeps us out of complacency. And there is also a debilitating, unhealthy, murderous level of stress. How aware we are of the dichotomy is the difference between someone who loves their work and someone who is a workaholic.

Telling the Difference

We can know that our anxiety is the Good Kind if it alerts us without inhibiting us. Does it help us ask healthy questions and examine risk, or does it paralyze us?

The anxiety that keeps us in the same place we’re in isn’t the anxiety that will help us grow. This may show up as overthinking or reading into things

If we’re anxious that we will be killed crossing the street, the Bad Anxiety would tell us to never cross a street. It would keep us stuck at at home.

The Good Anxiety tells us to look both ways.

Thank goodness that chicken didn’t have the debilitating anxiety or we’d never have everyone’s least favorite joke.

Anxiety is also a mental health issue that men are more open to saying they have. While it can be just as debilitating as depression, there are more men who are willing to talk about their “anxiety” than there are men who will admit feeling “depressed.” It’s amazing how gendered these things can get—and how they limit our asking for help to get out of these ruts.

How about you? Interested in talking further? Give me a call or shoot me an email to schedule a free 20 minute phone or online conversation about what’s getting in your way. 

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He practices counseling in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.