Reassessing Anxiety’s Role in Our Lives

Anxiety, often labelled as an adversary, holds a more complex role in our lives than traditionally perceived. Drawing from the insights of Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswa-Diener’s “The Upside of Your Dark Side,” this blog post aims to explore the balanced approach to anxiety, understanding its potential benefits alongside its well-known challenges.

Understanding Anxiety’s Spectrum

Anxiety exists on a spectrum, from a lack of stimulation leading to mental hibernation to overwhelming states that can paralyze. The authors point out that the right amount of anxiety can act as a motivational force, keeping us alert and focused without tipping into chronic stress or panic. This ‘just right’ level of anxiety can be the key to maintaining engagement and productivity.

Harnessing Anxiety for Success

Contrary to popular belief, anxiety doesn’t only narrow our thinking; it can also be a tool for success. It can act as a ‘sentinel response,’ alerting us to potential dangers and ensuring that small problems don’t escalate into disasters. Recognizing anxiety as a psychological strength rather than a weakness allows us to appreciate its value in a culture predominantly focused on maximizing pleasure and pursuing aspirations.

Strategies for Effectively Harnessing and Using Anxiety

  1. Creating a Positive Climate: Encourage viewing anxiety as a strength, not a neurosis. Recognize the value of having a mix of motivational forces within a team, including those driven by aspirational goals and those attuned to avoiding danger.
  2. Encouraging Problem Detection: Regularly listen to concerns and create channels for information flow. Acknowledge the importance of early threat detection and destigmatize the process of discussing discomfort and friction.
  3. Incentivizing Sentinel Behaviours: Reward the quieter forms of problem detection and resolution, ensuring that proactive actions are celebrated as much as reactive heroics.
  4. Recognizing Early Threats: Understand that the most significant threats often start as subtle signals. Appreciate the early detection of potential issues and foster an environment where such vigilance is valued.

The Value of Negative Emotions and Emotional Agility

Negative emotions, including anxiety, can be surprisingly beneficial. They can foster courage, regulate behaviour, keep us alert, and even recharge our creative energies. By not avoiding these emotions, we gain emotional agility, learning to use the full spectrum of our emotional experiences effectively.

Embracing the Full Spectrum of Emotions for a Healthier Life

It’s time to abandon the notion of labelling emotions as strictly positive or negative and instead focus on what is healthy or unhealthy in a given situation. Understanding the nuanced role of anxiety and other negative emotions allows us to harness their power for success and well-being.

As we navigate this complex emotional landscape, remember that coaching can be a valuable tool in understanding and managing our emotions more effectively.

My Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Coaching is Here to Support You

If you’re ready to explore how coaching can help you harness the power of anxiety and transform it into a source of strength and success, reach out. Together, we can take perspective on the complexities of your emotional world and chart a path toward a more balanced and fulfilling life in your own terms.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sophie



  • Kashdan, T., & Biswa-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Your “Good” Self – Drives Success and Fulfillment. Hudson Street Press.
  • David, S. (2016). Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. Avery.