A racing heart, jittery hands, and butterflies in your stomach: the symptoms of anxiety are hard to miss. And they’re not exactly pleasant either. But for all its ickiness, anxiety is a normal reaction to fear and just another part of being human. We all deal with it at some point.
The most common advice we dole out for anxiety is to “stay calm”. But anyone who has ever felt anxious knows how hard it can be to just chill when you’re in the midst of a panic.
So what if you worked with your anxiety instead of trying to reverse it?
Science has found that you can actually transform your anxiety into positivity and productivity with just three words: “I am excited.”
In a 2014 Harvard study, participants were asked to do nerve-wracking tasks, such as sing karaoke and deliver a two-minute speech. Participants were split into three groups: one group was told to say “I am excited!” before they had to sing. Another was told to say “I am anxious”, while the third group was not told to say anything.
People in the excited group not only reported that they felt excited, they actually performed better than the other subjects. But why?
Both anxiety and excitement are considered aroused emotions, which is precisely why they can feel so similar to one another (after all, we also experience butterflies and a racing heart when we’re amped up). Going from anxious to excited is much easier than going from anxious to calm. Saying “I am excited!” reframes your sense of dread into a mindset of opportunity: you start to consider all the things that could go well. As a result, you actually perform better.
So the next time you’re dealing with performance jitters or have to take on something big and scary, consider those three little words.