Our default is that anxiety is bad and it’s a feeling that needs to be ‘fixed’. But actually, as Dr Tracy Dennis-Tiwary  explains, if we reframe anxiety, it can actually be useful. It can help us grow and figure out what we care about when we learn to channel it in a positive way. And when anxiety isn’t helpful? Tracy’s list has tips on managing it and how to let it go.


  • We often feel as if we’re living in an overwhelming age of anxiety. This, despite a deep scientific understanding of anxiety, many excellent therapies, medications, and effective wellness practices. Why isn’t all this working?

  • I believe that the problem isn’t that we have too much anxiety. It’s that our view of anxiety sets us up for failure, blocking us from learning how to feel anxious in the right ways and from putting anxiety to good use.

  • In my book, I show why we need this difficult emotion, where we went wrong, and how we can create a paradigm shift in our view of anxiety that will allow us to better use it as the advantage it evolved to be.

We talk and think about anxiety in ways that set us up for failure.

  • Anxiety feels bad. And so we have come to treat all anxiety as a disease to be healed. Yet, this disease model of anxiety means that we believe two key fallacies that prime us to cope with anxiety in ways that only make it worse.

  • The first fallacy is that the experience of anxiety is dangerous and destructive, and that the solution to its pain is to prevent and eradicate it.

  • The second fallacy is that feeling anxious is a malfunction, a failure – of happiness and of mental health – and therefore needs to be fixed.

  • These fallacies are harming us because they cause us to mistake even normal anxiety for a disorder, and to fear, avoid, and suppress anxious feelings as our go-to strategy. Avoidance and suppression ALWAYS amplify anxiety and other painful feelings, and prevent us from finding productive ways to cope and build emotional skills.

  • Feeling intense anxiety is not the same thing as having an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed ONLY when the ways we cope with our anxieties and worries interfere with living a full and enriching life.

  • These problematic ways of coping usually involve avoidance – like never leaving the house, quitting a job because we fear negative evaluation, or self-medicating with drugs to dull our emotional pain.

Anxiety is an evolved advantage because it motivates us to be future oriented, and to hope and persist in our goals.

  • Anxiety has two key parts – the feelings in our body, like racing heart, throat tightening, or butterflies in our stomach, and the thoughts, like worries and apprehension.

  • Although anxiety often feels like fear, it’s distinctly different. Fear is the emotion we have when we face certain and present danger. In contrast, anxiety is the feeling we get when we look into the uncertain future, anticipate the possibility of something bad happening, but also understand that something good could happen instead if we work for it.

  • That’s why anxiety makes us into mental time travellers into the future, and why this “bad” feeling is also a triumph of human evolution because it emerged along with our unique and powerful human capacity to think about, imagine, and prepare for the future.

  • Anxiety helps us imagine and care about that uncertain future, and impels us to make it better. That’s why anxiety is inextricably linked to hope.

  • Anxiety isn’t just protective. It’s productive. The surprising biology of anxiety shows us that while anxiety orients us to threat, it’s also much more than just “freeze/fight/flight.”

  • Anxiety increases the “feel good” hormone dopamine, which primes us to strive towards our positive goals, and creatively problem solve; it also increases the social bonding hormone oxytocin, which primes us to seek out social support, which is among the best ways to cope with anxiety.

  • As a result, anxiety activates us, sharpens our focus, helps us persist through obstacles and uncertainty, and motivates us to be more creative, innovative, and socially connected.

Anxiety is information and motivation about the future—listen to it. 

  • To benefit from the advantages anxiety offers, we have to tune into it rather than suppress it. We have to listen to anxiety.

  • Anxiety gives us information about things we care about in the uncertain future – something bad could happen but hasn’t happened yet, and we still  have the time and ability to make things right.

  • Imagine you wake up at 5am, thinking about an upcoming job interview. If you’re anxious about it, you might worry that you’ll do poorly, but probably also believe that you have the ability to interview well, and that if you do, you’ll get the job of your dreams.

  • Once you identify the source of your anxiety, you have useful information. And you can decide what actions to take. Worrying about the job interview sharpens your motivation to put in that extra prep time so you can be at your best on interview day.

  • It also helps you on the day of the interview: your “nerves” are actually your body sending blood and oxygen to your brain so you can be sharp and focused.

  • To provide information and motivation, anxiety must be uncomfortable. It needs us to sit up and pay attention so that we can hear what it has to say. The discomfort of anxiety isn’t a call to panic. It’s a call to listen.

  • To successfully listen to anxiety we must be curious – open and non-judgemental about why we might be feeling apprehensive, and what it tells us about where we are now and where we want to be.

  • To listen to anxiety, we also have to shift our mindset. Research shows that when we learn to think about anxious feelings and reactions as the body and mind preparing to perform at peak, rather than a sign of falling apart under the pressure,  even highly anxious people feel more confident, and show biological signs of focus and persistence, like a steadier heart rate.

If anxiety isn’t useful, let it go for the moment.  

  • Anxiety isn’t useful or straightforward every time. Sometimes, it’s slow to reveal its message. Other  times, it’s pointless—plenty of emotion but no useful information. It sends us spinning into the future tense, worried and feeling overwhelmed.

  • That’s when all we can do is put our anxiety aside for safekeeping and try something different. Let anxiety go.

  • The best way to let go? Seek out activities that slow you down and immerse us in the present: read a favorite poem or listen to music that transports you. Check out that new podcast. Exercise or take a meandering walk. Call up your therapist, or reach out to a friend who makes you feel more yourself.

  • It’s in these moments that we also build the emotional awareness and skills to work through – not around – our difficult emotions, and to seek  support when we need it. On top of that, we give ourselves the space to understand what we really need: Maybe we can benefit from therapy, or maybe our sleep is negatively affecting our health, or maybe our work environment is unhealthy and it’s time to look for a new job.

If anxiety is useful, do something purposeful with it. 

  • Anxiety harnesses our attention and energy because it wants us to do something. And like any  energy, it needs to be converted, channeled, given somewhere to go. Otherwise, the pressure builds and  our quality of life takes the hit.

  • Anxiety is most useful when it leads us to do something purposeful. Purpose doesn’t have to be some  grand, earth-shattering mission. It just has to provide satisfaction, hope, and delight because it reflects  a valued part of one’s self. It gives life meaning.

  • Anxiety helps us persist in our purposes, the things we deeply care about, even when it’s hard. It  fuels momentum, unleashes strength. And another amazing thing about anxiety—it will  naturally diminish when we take those purposeful actions. It exists so that, when we no longer need  it, it can graciously step aside.

  • Over 180 years ago, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Whosoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.”

  • Don’t like your anxiety. Certainly don’t love it. But be curious about it. Honor it, even, knowing that the flip side of anxiety is hope. So that when we struggle with anxiety, we’re also struggling with our hopes and dreams for the future.

  • When we stop rejecting anxiety we will be better able to channel it, manage it, and use it to prioritise what matters to us in life.

  • No matter where we fall on the spectrum of anxiety, when we rescue anxiety, reclaim it as part of the messy work of being human, we’ll stand a better chance of rescuing ourselves.


** Dr Tracy Dennis-Tiwary’s book Future Tense: Why Anxiety Is Good For You (Even Though It Feels Bad) is available now.



–  READ Art Therapy And Heath Anxiety by Elizabeth Cane and how working with a therapist to unpick her artwork led to a greater understanding of herself.

–  READ Natalie Goodacre’s A List About Childhood Anxiety where she shares her experience of her daughter and the steps they took to make life easier for her. 

–  READ Beth Calvert’s list Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder as she explains how after finally receiving this diagnosis from the doctor, her life started to make sense.

–  READ How I Finally Learned To Be Kind To Myself by Zoe Blaskey, which highlights how we can never really know the internal battles other people are facing, and how they journey through them.

–  READ Veronica Valli’s list When My Drinking No Longer Made Any Sense which is all about her relationship with alcohol and the anxiety she felt as a result.

–  READ How I Reached Burnout by Flic Taylor, who describes how the mental and physical exhaustion slowly crept up on her until it was too late.

–  LISTEN to Matt Haig on But Why? podcast talking Mental Health and how, although being open about depression and anxiety can be useful, the conversation needs to be handled mindfully.

–  LISTEN to But Why? podcast with Poorna Bell who talks Expectations and how to manage them.

–  LISTEN to psychotherapist Anna Mathur’s calming wisdom as she talks Overwhelm on Honestly podcast, and how we can combat it.




Find submission guidelines here. All writers and topics are welcome.



** ‘But why don’t I feel happy all the time?’ ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ and But why do adults drink beer and what does it do?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to order now and also on audiobook.**

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