When you’re excited, your heart rate spikes, your mind races, your palms sweat, you start speaking faster, and maybe you tremble a little bit. When you’re anxious, your heart rate spikes, your mind races, your palms sweat, you start speaking faster, and, yeah, maybe you tremble a little bit. From a physiological standpoint, the two emotions appear identical. And yet, one feels great, while the other is a total bummer. What gives?
Well, if you take it from a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, “what gives” is you. As the researchers found, the difference between excitement and anxiety can be boiled down to—and even entirely overcome by—mindset.
Yes, a timeless adage rings true here: “mind over matter” matters. So put your mind to it! If you focus and deploy tried-and-true mental tactics, you’ll find your incessant feelings of anxiety turned into irrepressible waves of excitement. Here’s how. And for more ways to conquer your stress, check out (and steer clear of) the 20 Mistakes That Will Only Compound Your Stress.
Sing “Don’t Stop Believin'” like you mean it.
In that aforementioned study, the lead researchers required participants to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the 1981 smash hit by rock band Journey. (The song was chosen was chosen because it can easily be sung in a wide octave spectrum—and because literally everyone knows it.) Participants who went all in not only were more likely to sing in key, but they also reported higher levels of excitement. The tepid singers, on the other hand, reported high levels of anxiety. Oh, and they were totally off key. And for more ways to master your mind, learn the 30 Ways to De-Stress in Just 30 Seconds (or Less!)
Try “anxiety reappraisal.”
“Anxiety reappraisal” is deceptively easy—but it works. Here’s how you do it, courtesy of Harvard Business School researchers: when you’re feeling anxious, tell yourself you’re feeling excited. Yes, it as easy as that! Since both anxiety and excitement are so-called “arousal states [of mind],” you don’t have to jump through a bunch of mental hula hoops to assert that it’s a positive state. Your body is already there.
Think about the potential positives.
One way to ensure that “anxiety reappraisal” succeeds is to focus on the outcome. If you’re anxious, chances are, you’re thinking something along the lines of, What’s gonna happen if this doesn’t work out? Instead, think something like, What’s gonna happen if everything works out? The rest of your thoughts and feelings will get in line behind this positive-minded thinking. And for more ways to think happy thoughts, master the 70 Genius Tricks to Get Instantly Happy.
Take the GRE.
According to research out of the University of Rochester, taking the Graduate Record Examinations can pump you up—after the fact, though. Researchers rounded up test-takers (a naturally anxious bunch) and told one group that their innate anxiety over the impending exam would boost their scores. Turns out, the researchers were right; that group scored higher across the board—and reported feeling seriously excited as a result of their results.
Eat your yogurt.
If the “mind over matter” approach isn’t working out, look to your diet. As revealed in a study out of the University of Missouri, the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum—commonly found in yogurt—can alter “the gene expression associated with stress- and anxiety-related pathways.”
Say these three words.
“I am excited.” According to a recent study in the Journal of Marketing Research, wherein participants were required to write a to-do list of major task, participants who uttered that sentence three times reported significantly lower stress levels than the control group—who did nothing more than say their own names aloud three times.
Master “good” anxiety.
Not all anxiety is bad. For instance, if you’re in a potentially dangerous situation—crossing a busy street, say, and an approaching car is not slowing down—the anxious arousal state you’ll find yourself in can help keep you safe. Learning how to identify this “good” anxiety can help you similarly identify the “bad” anxiety, which does nothing but make your more anxious.
Don’t “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
The favorite phrase of Instagram circa 2014—and de facto slogan of World War II-era London—won’t do a thing toward turning your anxiety into excitement. When you calm down, you’re moving your body and mind further away from an arousal state. Even if you may feel more content with existence, you won’t feel any excitement. Once you decompress, your body is just literally not in a state to be excited.
Put your phone down.
Your phone is only exacerbating your anxiety. According to a boatload of studies—but, most conclusively, in recent research out of Kent State University—spending time on your phone is directly correlated with increased agitation and irritability, and decreased contentment. In other words, if your mind’s in an arousal state, being on your phone is just going to make you anxious. Put it down.
Yes, seriously. According to research out of Johns Hopkins University, the simple act of blowing bubbles—yes, like you did as a kid—is a mind-and-body placating exercise. In fact, it’s so effective at transforming anxiety that people regularly deploy the technique to fall asleep faster at night.
Watch cartoons before getting your teeth cleaned.
Fact: 5 out of 5 people experience severe anxiety before going to the dentist. But new research indicates that this anxiety can be tempered—and even overcome—by watching cartoons. According to a study in Acta Odontologia Scandinavica, children who watch cartoons before going to the dentist are placid throughout the appointment. There hasn’t been any conclusive science to suggest the same tactic wouldn’t work on adults, so get your Archer on.
Adopt this mantra.
Often, you can feel the onset of an arousal state coming on, sort of like you’re about to fall off a tightrope. On one side, you can land on anxiety. On the other, excitement. To ensure you land on the preferable one (the latter), lift this mantra, from Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success ($19). “My body and mind are preparing to give it their all.” Whenever you feel like you’re about to fall, deploy the mantra.
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