Is There a Positive Side to Anxiety?
As someone who suffers from anxiety, I know it sucks. It feels like your brain is turning against you and your body is rebelling. Most people will know the feeling, as nearly all of us within our lifetime will suffer from periods of anxiety. It’s a sad but sobering truth: anxiety is just part of the human experience. But just wait a hot second – a new study may have revealed a better way to cope during an episode of high anxiety, and it might not be as crazy as you think.
We’re all familiar with the age-old techniques you’re told to use when you begin to feel that sense of dread creeping in: keep calm, take deep breaths and tell yourself it’s all okay. But what if that’s not the answer at all? A recent study carried out by Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard business school, found that trying to keep calm may be counter-intuitive. Instead, it’s all about getting excited.
I know what you’re thinking, girl you crazy, but hold that thought for a moment as there is actually some very valid science behind this seemingly bizarre theory.
You see, this new theory is all about reframing your anxiety. So what does that mean? Well, by trying to calm down you’re fighting your natural inclination to experience the anxiety, which makes it quite difficult for that technique to be effective, as the emotions are polar opposites. On the other hand, anxiety and excitement are very similar emotions, the key difference being one emotion is negative and the other positive. The physical symptoms are pretty much identical in both cases, so by telling yourself you’re excited instead of anxious you may be able to ride that wave of physical symptoms and actually trick your brain into believing it. Stupid brain.
The original study found telling yourself you’re excited when feeling pre-performance anxiety actually had a really astounding effect. In one trial that involved karaoke (of all things) participants were divided into groups, with each different group being told to tell themselves they were feeling a specific emotion, such as anxiety, anger, sadness, calm and excitement. The control group didn’t give any statement of emotion. During their performances, all of the participants’ pulses were taken to measure anxiety and their execution of the song was also critiqued by a computer game system (harsh). The study found that the people who told themselves they were excited scored an average of 80 percent on the song based on pitch volume and rhythm, whereas those who were anxious scored on average 53 percent and the other emotions an average of 69 percent. From looking at this data it would seem the positive emotions associated with excitement helped participants to focus on their exercise and feel more confident in performing what would be an otherwise daunting task.
So there you go; if you feel yourself getting queasy or sweating to high heaven before that all-important presentation you’ve got to give in front of all of your giggling uni mates, tell your anxiety to piss off and just get pumped instead.
If you’d like to check out the study in fuller detail you can find it online in the ‘Journal of Experimental Psychology’.