Transform your anxiety into something useful. Here’s how

Editor’s note: The latest season of the podcast Chasing Life With Dr. Sanjay Gupta delves into the science of happiness. To listen to the episodes, click here.

(CNN) – Many of us have experienced a certain level of anxiety that can disrupt our sleep and hinder our ability to concentrate. This is not clinical anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks, but rather the common kind that leaves us feeling uneasy.

Neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki explained this everyday anxiety to CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his podcast Chasing Life. According to Dr. Suzuki, anxiety is simply the feeling of fear or worry that arises in uncertain situations. This is her simplified definition of everyday anxiety.
The experience is not pleasant, according to Suzuki, a professor at New York University who specializes in neural science and psychology. She believes that people generally want to get rid of anxiety because they view it negatively. However, Suzuki argues that anxiety is actually valuable and serves as a warning system. It helps us identify what is important to us and losing it would be detrimental to our lives. To learn more about how anxiety can be beneficial, you can listen here.
According to Suzuki, anxiety developed as a way to protect us. She explained that millions of years ago, our ancestors had to be constantly on guard for potential dangers while searching for food. The sound of a twig cracking could either mean a predator approaching or just a harmless noise. In order to survive, our ancestor had to be ready for any threat.

This constant vigilance caused her to feel anxious but also made her more alert to potential dangers. Suzuki referred to this as the fight-or-flight response, which is triggered in our bodies when we perceive a threat.

Interestingly, this same response is activated when we consume news or browse social media today. Suzuki pointed out that our heart rates increase, and our breathing becomes faster, which is not healthy for us in the long run. Therefore, it is crucial for us to learn how to regulate this stress response.
The first step to reducing everyday anxiety and achieving a state of “good” anxiety, according to Suzuki, is to learn how to lower your overall anxiety level.

So, what can you do to accomplish this? Here are Suzuki’s top five tips:

  1. Take a deep breath: Suzuki suggests practicing breath meditation. This ancient form of meditation is highly effective in calming oneself down, providing immediate relief. It is her go-to recommendation for those seeking an immediate solution.
  2. Engage in physical activity: Suzuki recommends going for a short walk. Did you know that just 10 minutes of walking can significantly reduce anxiety and depression levels? The best part is that you don’t even have to change your clothes to experience these benefits.

By implementing these strategies, you can effectively lower your everyday anxiety and move towards a state of “good” anxiety.
According to Suzuki, engaging in physical activity stimulates the release of neurotransmitters that increase feelings of reward and happiness, such as dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and endorphins. This creates a positive impact on anxiety levels. Moving your body essentially gives your brain a refreshing dose of these neurochemicals, providing immediate benefits.

Suzuki also suggests reframing anxiety-inducing situations as personal challenges that promote growth and resilience. Embracing uncertainty, as Deepak Chopra advises, can make life more interesting and enjoyable. Suzuki believes that uncertainty can bring excitement and joy, and encourages individuals to view it as something useful.
For instance, she explained that if she experienced the same thing every time she went on vacation, it would not be enjoyable. She enjoys the novelty and the opportunity to learn and be exposed to new things. However, she recognizes that she cannot control this aspect of vacation by definition.

In a similar vein, Suzuki suggests a way to alleviate worry and increase productivity. Instead of dwelling on what-ifs, she advises transforming the anxious list into a proactive to-do list. She shares her personal experience of having a worry list that often surfaces before she goes to sleep. To tackle this, she converts the list into a set of tasks to be accomplished.
“I adopt a strategy of acknowledging and remembering the things that are causing me anxiety before bedtime. I then use the following morning to address and resolve those concerns, thereby increasing my productivity. I view my anxiety as a tool that can be harnessed effectively.”

In addition, Suzuki suggests practicing compassion by supporting others and reminding them that they are not alone in their struggles. Offering kind words to someone who is experiencing similar anxiety can not only make them feel better but also release dopamine, which can improve your own mood.

We hope these five tips will help you transform your anxiety into a more productive force. You can listen to the full episode here and join us next week on the Chasing Life podcast, where we will explore the topic of therapy and its impact on happiness.