It starts off slow. Heart rate building. Dry mouth. A drip of sweat slowly rolling down from your temple to your cheek. And then wham. A punch to the gut. Anxiety. It’s inevitable in life. And yet so many of us see it as something we can’t control. Or worse, something we should bury and ignore.
"Keep Calm and Carry On" might work for t-shirts and tote bags, but as advice for real life? It’s about as useful as sticking your head in the sand. Stress affects us in different ways, at different times, but one of the most common situations we’ve all encountered is right before a big performance. Whether that means talking to your boss, singing karaoke, or playing sports. Pre-performance anxiety is a real thing. And it kills our ability to act.
But what if there were ways to rewire our brain to use stress to our advantage? To take those feelings of dread and anxiety and transform them into energy, excitement, and focus? To make stress our own version of Popeye’s spinach? Sounds like a dream. But thanks to new research into how our brains handle stress, it doesn’t have to be.
Here are ways on how to turn anxiety into excitement:
1. Don’t Think, Just Get Into Action
Don’t give your mind even a moment to go stray off. Give it something to do. Focus it on a task. Be of service. Channel your gifts into something powerful.
2. Reframe the Situation
Many of the symptoms of anxiety and stress—dry mouth, racing heart—are the same as excitement. And studies have found that when people are put in stressful situations such as public speaking or singing karaoke, telling yourself to calm down can actually backfire. Instead, those who reframe the situation as exciting and ride the wave of stress are better equipped to handle it.
When we feel anxious right before a meeting or before talking to someone we respect, that anxiety can drain working memory capacity, decrease self-confidence, and harm our overall performance.
And knowing that this is our usual reaction makes matters even worse. The anticipation of anxiety makes us think of the usual counter-balance: calm down. People who reframed their anxiety as excitement performed better than those who tried to bury it with calmness. Both stress and excitement are characterized by high arousal levels and a low sense of control.
3. See Challenges As Opportunities
At work, you get a promotion or new responsibilities. Your mind starts to wander. Am I going to be good enough? Do I really have what it takes? What if they made a bad choice in giving me the position? Instead, think of how exciting it will be.
4. Notice Your Anxiety As A Fact
Often anxiety begets more anxiety. But feeling guilty or frustrated by your anxious feelings only amplifies them. Don’t freak out about the fact that you are getting anxious. You want to understand the anxiety instead of judge it and freak out about it.
Remind yourself that this is a natural reaction the mind and body have in situations of uncertainty. There’s nothing wrong with having that feeling, but the first step is to acknowledge it.
5. Think Of It As An Energy Boost
Anxiety gives you an energy and adrenaline rush. Focus that energy toward good and you can improve your performance. This is something professional athletes, who often admit to butterflies before an important game or competition, do to stay more focused and driven.
When faced with clammy palms or trouble breathing before a big meeting or public speaking event, the default advice is to try to calm down. But being excited is more effective than staying calm. In this post, I shared with you the ways on how to turn anxiety into excitement.
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