Anxiety can have a powerful effect on all of us. Sometimes it drives us forward and other times, it can be debilitating.
If you’re anything like me, I’m going to guess you’ve already gone to war with your anxiety. You’ve fought it for years; tried to rid yourself of it but it doesn’t matter what you’ve done it keeps rearing its ugly head.
So this probably sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
How can 3 words turn this horrible, life-sucking feeling into something that actually feels good?
Harvard Professor, Alison Brooks, has indeed shown it to be possible using a technique called “anxious reappraisal”. It’s a quick, fun-to-do neurohack that not only leaves us feeling excited and more confident about the task ahead but it also improves our performance of that task.
Harnessing Your Nervous Energy
Have you ever noticed how similar the two feelings – anxiety and excitement – are to each other? Both are anticipatory and both are high-arousal emotions.
And what most of us don’t realize is that our nervous system is also reacting in a very similar way for each. Sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, increased release of cortisol, butterflies, dry mouth… The body is gearing us up for action.
So then why do we have such a strong aversion to one and crave more of the other?
Well, the thoughts we attach to excitement are of a desirable outcome whereas the thoughts attached to anxiety are of an undesirable or unpleasant outcome. It all boils down to how we interpret or perceive what we’re feeling.
That’s where this anxiety hack comes in.
A Simple Neurohack For Your Anxiety
Just say out loud to yourself, “I’m excited!” three times and focus on how the upcoming situation can benefit you.
I know, it’s counterintuitive! Many of us try to relax ourselves or we’ll even tell others to relax when they’re getting anxious.
“When asked, ‘how do you feel about your upcoming speech?’, most people will say, ‘I’m so nervous, I’m trying to calm down,’” said Alison Brooks.
But it turns out the “keep calm and carry on” slogan may not actually be the best strategy when it comes to anxiety. Whilst calmness is a positive emotion, it’s low on arousal.
And according to Brooks, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones than it would to get from charged-up and negative to positive and chilled. In other words, it’s easier to convince ourselves to be excited than calm when we’re anxious.
So a better, more accurate slogan might be “get excited and keep going”.
Brooks found that people who “reappraised” their anxiety as excitement felt more, well, excited, and more importantly, performed better at the task ahead of them.
It also boosted participants’ beliefs in their ability to perform well in the future, demonstrating that a little positive self-talk has a potentially long-lasting impact.
Here’s the thing though…
It didn’t actually make them less anxious, nor did it lower their heart rate. That’s because the underlying anxiety was the same—it was just reframed as excitement.
Shifting From A “Threat Mindset” To An “Opportunity Mindset”
Brooks explained that the way this works is by shifting people to an “opportunity mindset,” with a focus on all the good things that can happen if you do well, instead of a “threat mindset,” which dwells on all the consequences of performing poorly. So the idea isn’t to go to war with anxiety and destroy it but rather to reframe it and change the way you perceive it.
And for the anxiety veterans who’ve done it all and nothing seems to help; this is one of those things that become way more effective with practice. Just give it a fair chance – for your own sake. If the anxiety is debilitating, Brooks suggests also making a list of all the ways an upcoming, anxiety-inducing task could go well, and how it might benefit you. (I’d recommend reading this – it was an absolute game-changer for me!)
What might this first date lead to? What will happen if you nail your speech? What if your boss accepts your proposal? How will this change your life for the better? Just keep your focus on the benefits and the outcome you desire.
Here’s To A Life Of More Excitement
I have to admit, I’m no stranger to anxiety. After all, we did just start a business in the throes of a pandemic. That’s why I really love this technique. Because it helps me manage any anxiety without losing that good, energised feeling that keeps me productive!
Give it a shot next time you feel anxious about something and let this little neurohack work its magic.
And if anxiety is getting you down, reach out to us. Drop us a message here with your questions and we’ll get back to you. Or we can hop onto a free, no-strings attached call to explore the root of it and how we can help you completely change your relationship with your anxiety and fear so you can experience more freedom, happiness, peace and confidence. You deserve to find out just how strong and capable you truly are! Because when you do, your life will never be the same again.