From Dr. Mercola:
When you’re feeling anxious, do you ever tell yourself to calm down and relax? It seems as though this would be a useful strategy, but if you’ve tried you probably know that it’s not that effective.
When you’re faced with an anxiety-inducing situation, say giving a public speech, your heart is likely pounding and levels of the stress-hormone cortisol rise. In short, you’re in a hyped-up state of arousal, and simply telling yourself to relax may be too big of a leap for your body and mind to make.
A more effective option, according to Harvard Business School Professor Alison Wood Brooks, involves the opposite strategy: telling yourself you’re excited.
Three Words to Squelch Anxiety: ‘I Am Excited’
Excitement isn’t too far off from anxiety. The difference is excitement is generally a positive emotion while anxiety is negative. But in terms of the physical changes in your body, excitement and anxiety are difficult to distinguish.
And so, when you’re anxious, it’s not a stretch for your body to channel those negative feelings into positive ones of excitement instead. This isn’t just hearsay, either.
Brooks conducted a series of experiments in 2014 to evaluate reappraising anxiety as excitement. She wrote in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:1
“Compared with those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better.
Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying “I am excited” out loud) or simple messages (e.g., “get excited”), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mind-set (as opposed to a threat mind-set), and improve their subsequent performance.”
Reappraising Your Emotions Leads to Better Performance Outcomes
Brooks experiments challenged people to engage in three anxiety-inducing scenarios: giving a public speech, solving a difficult math problem and singing karaoke. The participants were able to change the outcomes of their performance just by altering their self-talk or mindset. Results were as follows:2
Participants prepared a persuasive public speech and were told it would be recorded and judged by a committee. Before giving the speech, the participants said either “I am excited” or “I am calm.”
Those who said they were excited gave longer speeches and were more persuasive, competent and relaxed.
Participants read either “try to get excited” or “try to remain calm” then were given math problems to solve. Those in the excited group scored 8 percent higher on average than the calm group or a control group that read neither statement.
Similarly, in 2010 a study found that reappraising feelings of anxiety into a positive (the participants were told it would improve performance) improved their scores on the math section of the GRE standardized test.3
Participants said they were anxious, calm, angry or sad before singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” in front of the group. The American Psychological Association reported:4
“Participants who said they were excited scored an average of 80