Why Your Anxiety Can Make You a Better Person

We generally believe that having anxiety is bad, but the truth is more complicated.

We often feel that social anxiety is somehow a defect of character, or the result of a malfunctioning brain. This is a perfectly reasonably conclusion when you consider the negative effects it can have on our lives. Left unmanaged, it can cripple our ability to interact with others and reach our full potential.

None of this is news to me.

There is another side to all of this. It has been shown that socially anxious people also tend to exhibit high levels of empathy. And if you’ve seen the news lately (or at any time, really) you know that the world’s supply of empathy is lower than California’s water levels.

How long did you work on that joke? Whatever the answer is, it wasn’t long enough.

The truth is that the world needs socially anxious people. In a group setting, they’re the first ones to notice when someone is uncomfortable or otherwise not having a good time. They’re also more likely to consider how their actions will affect others. The trick is to not let your social anxiety become so overwhelming that you can’t function in groups in the first place.

Empathy is great and all, but isn’t there such a thing as having too much empathy?

Absolutely there is. People who have an overdeveloped sense of empathy often find themselves experiencing the emotions of others whether they choose to or not. The effect is stronger if the person you are empathizing with is a relative or close companion. This can lead you to feel that whatever is happening to them is also happening to you, and you can consequently fall into the trap of trying to fix whatever problem they are experiencing in order to sooth your own emotions.

Instead of going down this path, try to take a step back and have a more objective view of your friend’s situation. What advice would a neutral observer give this person? This approach will benefit your friend more in the long run, because the drowning can’t save the drowning.