With awareness of mental illness on the rise these days, I think that anxiety is getting a bad rep. Hear me out.
Obviously, being overly-anxious and perceiving everything as scary and negative is bad. It means that every event is riddled with potential bad outcomes. It makes us think that everyone else hates us, they’re all talking behind our backs. This mentality restricts our ability to see the world reasonably. We make illogical decisions based on an overly-negative worldview. Plus, it’s not very fun to live in that mental environment.
However, sometimes people actually don’t like us in real life. Sometimes actions do carry risks with them. And anxiety makes us aware of these negative points.
Confidence, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. With confidence, we believe that we’re likeable and that events that occur to us will be, on the whole, positive. While this is a lovely state of mind to be in, it doesn’t necessarily accurately represent how events actually occur throughout our lifetime. And if we’re over-confident, we become completely blind to any negative aspects of the world that we might need to be aware of to make good decisions. We’ll be totally taken in with our certain belief that things will go well in our life. As Voltaire says, “doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
We need to be adequately aware of the risks and adequately aware of the gains to make decisions. We need aspects of anxiety to bring awareness of the negative parts of life. In the same way, we need aspects of confidence to bring awareness of the positive parts of our life… as well as to inspire confidence about ourselves in others and general mental well-being.
Obviously, anxiety is bad. But I fear that with the demonisation of anxiety in today’s culture, we might fail to recognise its uses as a mental state. Our ancestors evolved with anxiety so that we didn’t confidently walk up to pet the cuddly-looking lion.
I guess the trick is, like so many things, to find a good balance. Too much confidence or anxiety is bad. Oscillating between over-confidence and anxiety is bad (and you’ll probably be diagnosed with bipolar disorder). But get the balance just right, and you can hold on to positive beliefs while still being aware of negative possibilities.