Here are two quick and simple mind-set shifts that research has found can reduce feelings of anxiety:
Name your anxiety
You might be surprised to learn that simply by naming or labeling your anxiety out loud (or to yourself) you can lower the intensity of the feeling. Naming the emotion involves saying: “I am feeling anxious, because of the ...... (e.g. job interview, trip to the dentist next week, the continuing earthquake aftershocks.)”
When naming the emotion, you make no attempt to change your experience, you just state what you're experiencing.
It seems that when we name or label an emotion at the precise moment we experience it, this action creates some sense of distance between ourselves and the emotion.
Research from Dr. Michelle Craske at UCLA looked at the effect of labeling emotions on participants dealing with a fear of spiders. The participants were divided into four groups, based on the instructions they were given as they went through the steps of exposure: label the fearful emotions about the spider, think differently about the spider so it doesn’t feel as threatening, distract yourself from the fearful emotions about the spider, and those who received no instructions of how to think about the spider.
Those who were told to label their fearful emotions about the spiders showed less physiological signs of anxiety than the other groups. It was also found that naming the emotion out loud helped to reduce the feelings more than naming it to oneself.
Another study, in which participants named their own emotions, found that as the cortex (our thinking brain) was engaged in labeling the emotions, the amygdala – the emotional response centre – became less reactive.
Another benefit of naming our anxiety is that it reminds us that the emotion is temporary; it’s just something we are experiencing, and it isn't a permanent part of who we are.
So the next time you are feeling anxious I encourage you to name the anxiety, and you might be surprised by how much it lowers the intensity of the feeling.
Reframing your 'anxiety' as 'excitement'
A study "Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement." conducted by Alison Wood Brooks, Harvard Business School assistant professor found that simply by labeling the sensations we feel when anxious as signs that we are excited improves performance.
In the study 659 subjects went through anxiety-inducing experiences such as singing in front of strangers, and completing a difficult math test under time pressure. Some participants were guided to reframe their anxiety as calmness. Others as excitement. Still others were left to their own devices.
The study found that once anxiety set in, it was hard for the participants to calm down physically. In all cases, most of the participants continued to have elevated heart rates. All participants also reported that they continued to feel anxious, no matter how they reframed the sensations.
However, compared to those who reframed their anxiety as calmness or did not reframe their anxiety at all, participants who reframed their anxiety as excitement performed much better.
This study suggests that instead of struggling to calm down, when experiencing anxiety, we can reframe the experience as a sign of excitement.
In the study, participants reframed anxiety as excitement in one of two ways:
- Saying out loud convincingly, "I am excited."
- Reading on a screen, in large letters, "Try to get excited."
Those simple acts were enough for study participants to actually feel excited--and perform better than the others.
Brooks thinks reframing anxiety as excitement improves performance, because it primes us to have an opportunity mindset.
So the next time you feel anxious, tell yourself that you're excited. And really believe it. Then look at the situation as an opportunity by thinking of the possible positive outcomes. By reframing anxiety into excitement, you can harness that energy towards performing better and increasing your confidence.