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John Seivert: Anxiety: Can it be good for us?

Anxiety seems to be the focus of the last few years due to many life stressors. In 2019 I wrote about the benefits of “stress” in our life. If we regularly have stressful situations happen to us and process that stress well, it can be a good thing. Anxiety has replaced stress as our emotional language placeholder for every uncomfortable feeling or uncertainty. Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, Ph.D., author of “Future Tense: Why anxiety is good for you (even though it feels bad),” states that the word anxiety has absorbed everything from dread to pleasant anticipation. However, anytime we hear the word anxiety, we think of any experience in a negative light. To break it down for more clarity, I will explain the many facets of anxiety.

Fear vs. Anxiety?

Fear and anxiety have similar physiological effects on our bodies, like the surge of adrenaline and cortisol, which causes an increased heart rate, sweating, and more alertness. Anxiety also triggers our brains to produce oxytocin, the “cuddle” or “social bonding” hormone. Oxytocin is released when we are in love and when women have babies. These two hormones are active during our nervous system’s fight or flight reflexes. Anxiety connotes lingering apprehension, a chronic sense of worry, tension or dread. When comparing the differences between fear and anxiety, one writer expressed it this way, “The sudden re-arrangement of your guts when an intruder holds a knife to your back (fear) is different from mild nausea, dizziness, and butterflies in your stomach as you’re about to make a difficult phone call (anxiety).”

The Symptoms of Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can cause problems in everyday situations due to symptoms such as these: Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that are out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to let go of the worry, inability to relax, difficulty concentrating, distress about making decisions, and difficulty handling uncertainty.

A few weeks ago, I experienced all these symptoms and a few more at the San Francisco International Airport. When checking in for my international flight, the ticketing agent told me that my current passport was invalid. It will expire in late July, and all international travelers to the European Union (EU) must have a minimum of three months before expiration. As the ticketing agent said, “I am sorry, sir, but you cannot travel because your passport is not valid.”

I went into a state of panic. I froze, my heart rate began to race, I became instantly sweaty, and I even experienced lightheadedness and tunnel vision. My wife took over with the questioning of the ticketing agent. As I calmed down and understood the circumstances, my wife and I implemented the plan. Actually, Roxanna put the plan into effect. We had less than 10 hours to obtain a passport photo, renew the passport and return to the airport for a rescheduled flight to Spain. It was pretty ironic that I decided to write my monthly article on anxiety a week prior. I would now have fresh feelings about anxiety and how this would be good for me. Roxanna questioned me at that point and asked if I still thought anxiety was a good thing for me. My comment is, “no comment.”

How anxiety is helpful

Like eustress, a type of “positive” stress that keeps us vital and excited about life, anxiety can also offer a variety of positive things to our lives. Motivation: Sometimes, we need a dose of anxiety to motivate us to do something. You can finish that class assignment very quickly the night before it is due. Preparation: Studies show that anxiety can help you be more prepared for a disaster or difficult situation in certain situations. Fire preparedness has become commonplace for us living in Nevada County. Attention: When we are anxious, our attention shifts to important things in our lives. Protection: It is a way to protect us from danger. Communication: When people are anxious, they are compelled to communicate and share these feelings. It is a way our body helps us find support and a safe place.


Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, Ph.D., states, “We humans are not fragile; we are antifragile.” Dr. Dennis-Tiwary explains the benefits of stress on our bodies. She says that antifragile things don’t just bounce back like a flexible branch that doesn’t snap in a storm; they actually gain from randomness, volatility, and disorder. They need chaos to flourish. It’s like what my dad always said to me when working for him in the hot Arizona summer sun, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Our bones and muscles are antifragile as well. Spending a week or more in bed leads to atrophy of the muscles and weakening of the bones. Challenging our bodies with lots of physical stresses creates robust muscles and bones. Therefore, growing a solid emotional immune system allows us to feel difficult emotions and push ourselves to bear emotional pain. Suppose we were to construct our lives to avoid these unhappy feelings. In that case, we will be prevented from using our antifragile natures to navigate life’s many challenges to the best of our abilities.

I am now a week into my trip to Spain for a week long photography workshop. When I checked in my luggage at the JFK airport I made a bad decision to check my camera gear. My rational was that it was in a protected hard case and locked up. Well, my gear did not arrive with me and still has not been delivered. Six days at a photography workshop using a rented camera (Nikon) when I shoot Sony created even more stress. The entire week of emotional stressors has created more resilience to my emotional well-being. I am truly grateful for these experiences as hard as they were at the time.

Helicopter Parents become Snowplow Parents

Kids are not fragile. The “helicopter parents” of the 1990s and 2000s have become the “snowplow parents” of the twenty-first century. These parents forcibly try and remove every possible emotional and physical obstacle in their children’s path. Remember the 2019 college admissions scandal? Dozens of wealthy parents cheated to get their kids into top universities across the United States. Even breaking the law was OK for some parents because they felt they were doing their kids a favor.

Now that I have a new passport, learned an entire new camera in Spanish, my anxiety has dissipated. As I look back on this experience, I see many learning opportunities to share with my family, friends and community. My advice is to pay attention to that expiration date on your passport and get your passport renewed at least a year before you plan to travel internationally. Take on those stresses and know that you will be creating a more resilient body and mind. If air travel isn’t your thing, get a travel trailer or RV, which should develop a whole different set of vacation stress. Plan ahead and have fun traveling this summer.

John Seivert is a doctor of physical therapy and he has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic Physical Therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been educating physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at bodylogic2011@ yahoo.com

Anxiety seems to be the focus of the last few years due to many life stressors.
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