True Story: Anxious People Are More Self-Aware and Empathetic

Updated 06/28/17
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

When you're in the middle of an anxiety episode, it's hard to think of anything positive (let alone the potential upsides of anxiety itself). You likely feel overwhelmed, immobilized, or even isolated by your incessant worry and the physical symptoms that come along with it.

But a closer look at the personality traits that belie anxiety can shed a positive light on this much-maligned mental health issue. While anxiety itself is an unpleasant experience, those who are more prone to it play host to a myriad of unique and positive personality traits, skills, and perspectives.

"I am sensitive, intuitive, and empathic," writes Karyn Shanks, MD, an Iowa-based functional medicine doctor of 26 years, of her struggle with anxiety. "[My anxiety] drives insight, empathy, and understanding. … It connects me more deeply to the people and things I love. It urges me to tell the truth, to be kind, and to forgive."

While anxiety is in no way limited to introverts only, it is commonly associated with sensitivity, or the trait of being acutely aware of emotions, loud noises, and other stimuli. Having a heightened awareness of what's going on around you can make you more prone to anxiety, sure, but it can also make you more perceptive, creative, detail-oriented, and a deeper thinker. One study even found more activity in regions of the brain associated with awareness, empathy, and action planning in highly sensitive people. 

Given these personality traits, it stands to reason that highly sensitive people are best suited for careers as writers, editors, artists, massage therapists, counselors, actors, and the like, as Love to Know suggests. These jobs allow these individuals to convey ideas and feelings and fluctuate between working independently or working with others.

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