Anxiety Reappraisal: Turn Anxiety into Excitment

Anxiety Reappraisal

This works. I have tried it.

Learn what many public speakers, great lawyers, high-profile athletes do when they experience anxiety. They quickly and easily switch anxiety to the feeling of excitement! They perform better! The process is called “Anxiety Reappraisal.” And multiple studies show that it works!

Emotional reappraisal: “A form of cognitive change that involves [re-thinking] an emotion-eliciting situation in a way that changes its emotional impact” (Gross & John, 2003, p. 349).

Opportunity mindset: You are thinking about all the good things that can happen. You perform better.

Threat Mindset: You are thinking about all the bad things that can happen if you do not do well. You perform worse.

Suppression: An individual continues to feel a certain emotion, but masks or hides it from observers.

Rather than attempting to suppress anxiety by trying to calm down, it is more effective to change the emotion to something useful by renaming the anxiety as excitement. This will take you from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset.

Anxiety Reappraisal: Stay aroused. Get excited.

The practice of mindfulness is a great tool for reducing your vulnerability to anxiety-triggering thoughts.  These thoughts like all triggering thoughts simply becoming less triggering because the practice of mindfulness creates a distance between you and your thoughts. You tend to observe them and not react to them. You do not have to be practicing mindfulness at the time of the troublesome thought. This distance is an effect of regular practice. You are not in denial but with the thought, at a safe distance, you can use it as information. Mindfulness is a preventive measure when it comes to anxiety.

So, what if you are already in that triggered state? Then what? Others will tell us to try to calm down. We likely will just tell ourselves to react. Seems logical, but according to a study in 2009, by Hofmann, Heering, Sawyer, & Asnaani, because it is so difficult to suppress the automatic high arousal associated with anxiety, trying to hide anxiety is ineffective most of the time. The nervous system prefers things to stay the same, even if that means a state of fear.

Okay, great, now what? You can still center yourself while feeling the arousal. When you catch yourself in high anxiety, you can use that energy to feel better and perform better.  You can make this negative energy a positive energy - by relabelling it.

Think of a train traveling at full speed down a track called Negative. The longer it keeps running in that direction, the more anxiety you will experience. You can try to stop it.  How much energy would that take? Is it even possible? But let's say there is a junction on the track in front of that train. And, the other direction it can go down is Positive. So, here are your choices; try to stop it or change its direction without having to stop the momentum of the train. You pull the switch by saying, "I am excited" or "I feel excited." Yes, it is that absurdly simple. Just say it over and over and you will feel excited and, evidence shows you will perform better. The better performance is credited to out of the threat mindset and into the opportunity mindset.

Clearly, pulling the switch is easier than trying to stop the train. It takes less effort for an amped up the brain to make the switch from aroused and scared to aroused and eager i.e. excited than it does to go from aroused-negative to calm and neutral. This is according to a study on performance anxiety from Harvard Business School by Alison Wood Brooks in 2014. 

Outward misrepresentations of emotions can be unhealthy and exhausting (e.g., Côté, 2005; Ekman, 1992; Grandey, 2000, 2003; Gross & Levenson, 1993; Morris & Feldman, 1996). The good news is that pre-performance anxiety does GENUINELY transfer into excitement.

(And, think of how strong a vibration of enthusiasm, excitement, and eagerness would be.)

"Use fear as an ally in pubic speaking or in argument. Learn to convert its energy." ~ Gerry Spence, America's greatest lawyer ever speaking in layman’s terms regarding anxiety reappraisal

Jeremy Jamieson of Rochester Universty, in 2010, found out that if we chose to believe anxiety is a good thing that helps performance - it will help. You don't even have to tell yourself you are excited. Jamieson found out math scores improved just by telling students anxiety improves performance.

The consensus among emotion regulation scholars is that the best way to handle a negative emotion is through reappraisal. Tragedy can be re-interpreted as something positive. This may take some searching for new meaning in your environment and internal state. But, even a second reappraisal and a later time, after feeling it was a tragedy, can soothe your feelings when the tragedy is re-interpreted symbolic and sadness as calm or pride (Jennings, Averill, Opton, & Lazarus, 1970; Lazarus, 1966; Monat, Averill, & Laraus, 1972; Scherer, 2001). Whereas attempting to suppress emotions can lead to experiencing them longer (e.g., Gross, 1998, 2001; Gross & Levenson, 1993; Hofmann et al., 2009).

Shamans believe trying to suppress our fear feeds it prana, or life force. I other words, suppressing the feeling of anxiety makes it stronger. To preserve prana, their suggestion is to use various techniques like meditation and movement such as yoga to be with the emotion and learn from it and see it us the transient experience it is. Well, if you have the time and inclination, have at it, hos.

The least taxing and most effective means of changing the experience of anxiety to something beneficial is to re-interpret it as excitement. Anxiety reappraisal is a proven means to turn fear into something far more useful. 

Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can lessen the impact of stressful events when they occur.

Add some Body English to your Anxiety Reappraisal

Stand in the victory pose when saying, "I am excited." There have been some controversial findings regarding poses, including, it can change your hormones. This is no longer considered valid. But, studies do continue to show that moods do improve. So, big smile, stand with your arms in a "V" and say "I'm excited, I'm excited...". There have not been studies on combining body language with strictly verbal emotional reappraisal, but, I can't see how it would hurt. In fact, it would likely help.

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