Change Anxiety into Excitement (instead of Calm)

November 16, 2015

It all started with Amy Poehler on The Howard Stern Show.
She mentioned that the physiology of anxiety/nervousness is very similar to that of excitement. So newbies in improv/comedy/performance mistakenly think they are anxious when in fact they are getting excited.

This was all new to me.

As an anxiety prone person (due to my highly sensitive nervous system), I was excited to hear this.

All through the years, every tactic I’ve learned for reducing anxiety has been to calm down.

One anxiety therapist taught me that it was all about deep belly breathing. This calms your sympathetic nervous system (fight of flight). That was his only tool for me. Keep belly breathing while public speaking. Keep belly breathing during social interactions. That sounds great in theory but once I’m hit with anxiety, I can’t remember a damn thing let alone remember to breathe deep.

Other techniques I’ve picked up are: energy medicine (calming triple warmer meridian, strengthening subtle body, energetic boundaries), EFT (tapping away nervous energy, reprogramming the brain), and supplements (vitamin c, vitamin b, 5htp, niacin, kava kava, chamomile) meant to calm the body.

After some new research, I think all of those techniques are misguided.
According to arousal theory research, they found that going from anxious to calm takes two steps. First we have to switch from a high arousal state to a low arousal one. Then we have to go from a negative emotion to a positive state. This is too hard for people to do while feeling anxious.

A more efficient method is to switch from anxious to excited.
Both of these are high arousal states. So we can stay amped up, instead of calming down. The only switch is going from a negative state to a positive one. Anxious means we are powerless to the situation. Excited means we are eager and looking forward to that same situation.

So when feeling anxious nerves, simply start doing things to get excited and amped up. Top public speakers usually hop up and down back stage. Or Tony Robbins talks about thumping your chest to get more amped. Maybe tell yourself you are super excited right now and can’t wait to get out there. Maybe do some power poses ala Amy Cuddy. Pretend you are a cage fighter waiting her turn to get to the stage.

I like this idea and look forward to trying it out in the field!

Resources:
Feeling Anxious? Why Trying To “Keep Calm” Is A Terrible Idea
Scientists Find Socially Anxious People Are Highly Intelligent