Why high functioning anxiety makes the best entrepreneurs

anxiety-makes-best-entrepreneurs-laura-campbell
Why high functioning anxiety makes the best entrepreneurs

Anxiety is the ability to detect a threat and defend against it. It is something we have inherited from our caveman ancestors and it is designed to protect us. The human brain takes millions of years to evolve and so we have the same brains as cavemen. For the Homo-sapian from which modern humans have evolved from, the anxiety “flight, fight or freeze” mechanism protected us from predators such as sabre-toothed tigers and ensured we received the adrenaline hit when under threat or hungry, which gave us the energy to get to safety or hunt and gather food. For today's entrepreneurs, it can limit creativity and appetite for risk, essential for entrepreneurialism. The best entrepreneurs are those with high-functioning anxiety, who can harness their risk-detecting brains and find solutions to problems others cannot find.

A stressor, real or often with anxiety a perceived (pre-apprehensive) stress, is detected by the amygdala and frontal lobe of the brain. This triggers a cascade of signalling mechanisms via the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which ultimately triggers the release of Adrenaline from the adrenal gland. Adrenaline gives your muscles a quick and short-lasting supply of Glucose, so you become hyper and are ready to run away from threats. The brain prioritizes defence from threat over all other biological mechanisms, including the reproductive (which is why stress lowers fertility), digestive (stress slows gastric motility altering appetite), immune (why chronic stress can make you ill) and neurotransmitter (our mental health), systems. Your brain becomes “black-and-white” in its thinking, focused purely on defence against risk and threat.

In this state of inflexible anxious thinking, it is very hard to think clearly, logically and creatively, traits essential for entrepreneurs. The function of an anxious person in a caveman tribe was as the guardsman, the one who protected the tribe from predators. Anxiety is not a weakness but a strength, necessary in society as those with anxiety can help predict and defend from societal risk and protect communities and individuals. Worries help us to protect against threats. However, often they can also paralyse change as if a society is functioning well, they can prevent change from the status quo. What makes a good entrepreneur is the ability to take risks, and often anxious thinking prevents this.

So, how can you harness the benefits of predicting threats with anxiety and yet still have the appetite for innovation necessary for entrepreneurialism? The answer lies in accepting you have anxiety and learning to control it. To use your anxiety when feeling anxious as Adrenaline fuelled energy to get things done, and yet have the ability to calm yourself through coping mechanisms like yoga and walks in nature and meditation, so you can also think creatively and problem solve. A high functioning anxious person, who can find problems and yet also find pioneering solutions to them. Now that would be the best entrepreneur!

Copyright Laura Campbell 27/04/2022

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Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Neuroscience, mental health and nutrition academic and writer. Life-experimenter, trying to add value with an insatiable appetite for actioning positive change.