Nearly 40 million adults in the United States are enduring anxiety, making up almost 18 percent of our population. Anxiety can be debilitating and cause significant disruptions to our lives; however, it also has some beneficial effects that should not go unnoticed. Anxiety can be beneficial to your success! It has the potential to drive you forward, make you more empathetic and perceptive as a leader, and help keep you connected with the world. So many successful people have dealt with anxiety in their lifetime – take a look at these examples below that to illustrate how they managed it effectively.
Lena Dunham, the visionary behind Girls, has been incredibly open and candid about her struggles with anxiety as well as mental health issues. “It’s why I don’t sleep at night. To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, and depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”
Chance the Rapper
The celebrated musician recently shared his thoughts about the issue with Complex Magazine. He stated to the magazine, “I think anxiety is also something that I’m just now being exposed to. A really big conversation and idea that I’m getting introduced to right now is black mental health. ‘Cause for a long time that wasn’t a thing that we talked about. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember people talking about anxiety; I don’t remember, when I was growing up, that being a thing.” He credits medication, in tandem with his faith in God, as the primary contributor to his success.
Jason Saltzman, CEO of Alley
The CEO confessed to Entrepreneur Magazine that he is afflicted with general anxiety disorder. “It really sucks. When I was younger, I just thought it was all in my mind. I also felt insecure talking about it to anyone. It felt taboo.” To tackle the issue, he suggests talking it through. “One of the most therapeutic things I do for my anxiety is simply talking about it. I tell my friends; I talk about it with my family. My investors even know I suffer from it! If your friends are judgmental, then I would question why you’re friends with them in the first place. You need good people around you to grow. I feel this is true in business and life. Some of the most successful people I know are surrounded by great people. This makes total sense. If you’re in a world where you are being judged and those closest to you are putting you down, it’s very likely that you will feel the effects and be much less productive and not happy. Surrounding myself with good people has been a game-changer for me. Cut out the negative people right now!”
The singer-songwriter who radiates serenity recently divulged to Billboard that before her Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, she experienced an immense panic attack – understandable right? “Like, IVs in my arm, everything,” she said. “Nobody knew.” She says her belief in God helped her get through it and let’s face it, she owned that night. “I said, ‘If I can get over this [first] step, then I know all my dance steps will be on point,'” she says. “I know it was nothing but the grace of God that lifted me and took me through that performance.”
Before taking the stage, Grammy-winning musical artists often experience bouts of nerves or anxiety. “I have anxiety attacks, constant panicking on stage, my heart feels like it’s going to explode because I never feel like I’m going to deliver, ever. I will not do festivals. The thought of an audience that big frightens the life out of me. I don’t think the music would work either. It’s all too slow. I’d hate to book a festival and have a f**king anxiety attack and then not go on stage.”
Charlie Beljan, Pro Golfer
While competing on the PGA tour, Charlie Beljan experienced a debilitating panic attack; yet incredibly, he still achieved one of his best scores ever despite believing that he was having a heart attack. “The mail that I’ve gotten, people saying, ‘You were such an inspiration, I fight these every day,’ that’s what’s been really cool,” he explains. “To have all these people say they fight these daily and it was cool to see mine in the public eye, that’s an inspiration to me. It’s an inspiration to bring that to the surface and make other people aware of it.”
The performer has been very vocal about her struggles with anxiety and depression caused by fame. “It just causes a lot of anxiety. There were a few months where I was a little depressed, where I wouldn’t leave [the house] as much. I think I drove myself crazy for a little bit… As much as I don’t like to wake up and think about that it’s there, it’s naturally just there. My response was to stay in, which sucked. That’s what I was trying to fix this past year, I’m finally getting a little bit more comfortable. It’s a process.”Beyonce even the great Queen Bey went through a difficult time with all the pressure of her career. “It was beginning to get fuzz – I couldn’t even tell which day or which city I was at. I would sit there at ceremonies and they would give me an award and I was just thinking about the next performance. My mother was very persistent and she kept saying I had to take care of my mental health.”Sarah Silverman comedian and writer has written a lot about her panic attacks. “People use ‘panic attack’ very casually over here in Los Angeles, but I don’t think most of them know what it is. Every breath is labored. You are dying. You are going to die. It’s terrifying. And then when the attack is over, the depression is still there. It feels like I’m desperately homesick, but I’m home.”Kendall Jenner model and entrepreneur has opened up a lot recently about her struggles with anxiety. “Anxiety was a huge hurdle for me to deal with this past year (and security concerns didn’t help),” she wrote. “But I think I’m finally learning how to cope.” She continued “I once had a really bad attack on a plane and just had to ride it out. I felt my heart beating a million miles an hour and I even went a little numb.” As a result, she has turned to meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. “It’s all mental, so I try to prevent anxiety attacks by bringing my mind somewhere else.”
In a recent interview with Well & Good, the renowned singer opened up about her struggles with anxiety and panic attacks that began to intensify as her career gained momentum.
Anything could cause her panic attacks, she said. “My new life as a pop star certainly wasn’t as glamorous as all my friends from home thought. Secretly I was struggling physically and emotionally.” She said an exercise routine really helped, specifically boxing and kickboxing. “It wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger,” she writes. “It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise—however you like to work out—is good for the soul.”
“When my mother told me about my childhood, she always told me that there was like a light in me, a spark that inspired me constantly. When I started school, the light went out. It was never known what it was, a kind of social anxiety.”
In 2013 Oprah admitted she had a panic attack on the set of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler. “In the beginning, it was just sort of speeding and a kind of numbness and going from one thing to the next thing to the next thing. I will tell you when I realized that I thought, ‘All right if I don’t calm down I’m gonna be in serious trouble.’ I was in the middle of doing voiceovers, you know? And I remember closing my eyes in between each page because looking at the page and the words at the same time was too much stimulation for my brain.”
In a recent candid interview with Rolling Stone, the Oscar nominee shared her journey of how she overcame anxiety from an early age. While therapy did help in some aspects, it was acting and improv classes that truly provided relief for her. “I wrote this book called I Am Bigger Than My Anxiety that I still have: I drew a little green monster on my shoulder that speaks to me in my ear and tells me all these things that aren’t true. And every time I listen to it, it grows bigger. If I listen to it enough, it crushes me. But if I turn my head and keep doing what I’m doing – let it speak to me, but don’t give it the credit it needs – then it shrinks down and fades away.” And one of the ways she got the monster to fade away was in those classes. “I started acting at this youth theater, doing improv and sketch comedy,” she says. “You have to be present in improv, and that’s the antithesis of anxiety.”
In a UK edition of Glamour, she expressed, “I still do get terribly nervous, and that’s partly due to the fact I think too much and overanalyze things. I’ll start worrying about my parents or my dog, and I’ll picture him opening the window of my apartment and falling out, even though I can’t get that thing open myself.”
Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for SXSW
[Related: 8 Tips for Beating Your Anxiety]