Riddled With Anxiety? Get Excited Instead!
I have struggled with anxiety/nervousness far more than I like to admit. However, there are several things over the years that have really helped me reduce the intensity. I watched a short video by Mel Robbins today about her “high five” mirror habit, which reminded me of just how important it is to learn about how the brain interprets anxiety and/or excitement.
I’ll explain Mel’s “high five” technique in a bit. First, I want you to really get this:
Physiologically, the brain interprets nervousness and excitement almost identically.
What’s the difference?
Your brain responds depending on what your MIND is thinking/saying, or the story that’s being played out in your subconscious.
When I used to play basketball and was gearing up for a game, friends would ask me, “Are you nervous?” My automatic response was, “No. I’m super excited! We’re going to kick some butt!”
Sure, my heart was racing and sweat drenched my pits, but my thoughts were on a good outcome – us winning. As such, my brain interpreted my heightened physiological symptoms as “excitement” over “anxiety”. As a result, my body was more relaxed and helped me be at my best performance-wise.
Now, having to perform on stage? Fly in a plane? There was a whole different story going on in my head that typically went something like this: “I’m going to die!” (Apparently from public ridicule or hurling 500 mph from the sky to planet Earth)
My thoughts contributed to my brain interpreting my fast heart rate, sweat, shallow breath as “anxiety” and acted accordingly – putting me in survival response. In short, I was freaking out and it sure did impact my experience. It was not fun.
Next time you’re nervous or having a lot of anxiety, say the following a few times:
- “I’m excited!”
- “I’m stoked!”
- “Whoa! This is freakin’ awesome!”
- “What an opportunity!”
Think it AND say it. In doing so, you may literally trick your brain into thinking all is well…
Because, most likely, it is.
The Root of Anxiety & Excitement
You see, at the core of anxiety is fear. The core of excitement is joy.
I like how Barbara Brown Taylor puts it:
“The only real difference between Anxiety and Excitement was my willingness to let go of Fear”.
I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of feeling fearful.
Like dead-dog-tired of it.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever feel anxiety or fear. There are times where some nervousness or anxiety is warranted. The heightened awareness and boost of adrenaline can come in handy, such as preparing for a test or interview, or getting you in fight or flight response to deal with true danger.
But I am saying that there are psychological, physiological, and spiritual techniques that can help reduce chronic or irrational fear that stifles growth or keeps us suffering in some form or fashion.
Learning To Navigate Life From A Core Sense of Trust
I’ve spent many years in survival mode, feeling anxious and small. My mother did the same thing, not knowing how to get out from under it.
I’ve had to learn (and still am) to navigate life from a place of trust and excitement in a safe space, rather than anxiety and survival. Chronic anxiety can cause mental and physiological distress. It caused me to stay away from many social situations, forming new friendships, taking risks, and stifled personal, career, and spiritual growth.
But here’s the thing.
Once you learn that anxiety and excitement are almost identical to the brain, you empower yourself in so many ways. You begin to see life with more possibility and opportunity, rather than narrowly focus on how many threats are around every corner.
This has been studied out too. In one study by Alison Wood Brooks from Harvard Business School, volunteers performed anxiety-provoking tasks like public speaking, karaoke, and math. Instead of letting them frame their heightened physiological responses as anxiety, she had them reframe it as excitement. And lo and behold, they suffered less mentally, and their performance improved.
It’s not that they “calmed down”, but rather, they tricked the brain into thinking the jitters suggested that something good was about to happen.
Both anxiety and excitement suggest that something uncertain lies ahead. It’s just that you can consciously use what Brooks calls an “opportunity mindset” over a “threat mindset”.
What you’re doing is learning how to interpret the bodily sensations (fast heart rate, feeling out of control, sweating, etc.) as “non-threatening” and as you do, you’re rewiring your brain to then change the way you typically respond. (shut down, take pills, drink, constrict, stay in comfort zone, yell, etc.)
No More Automatic Responses
I used to really be anxious about putting myself out there as a writer. What was the fear? My subconscious would suggest to my brain, “I’m not good enough” or “People will see me, actually get to know me, and that won’t be good because if they really knew me, they’d find out that I’m just a scared little girl terrified of so much in life – stuck in chronic survival mode.”
That was the subconscious response without any conscious input from the real me, the spiritual me. The “me” that God created, loves, and wants to flow through.
Now, rather than letting my subconscious programs or ego run my world, I’m more conscious of what I’m thinking and saying. I’ve spent time excavating my inner world. Now, I find myself feeling familiar heightened body sensations, and rather than let everything unfold automatically, I blurt out:
“I’m excited! I’m sooo excited! Like, super excited – the most excited I’ve ever been!”
Tricking my brain, letting it know that there is no real threat here. I’m not about to be eaten by a bear. No one is standing over me with a gun. I’m literally sitting in my living room…what is there to be anxious about or fear?
And, no matter where I am, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am safe. I also incorporate other anxiety-reduction tools that I won’t get into here. But essentially, I remind myself that I am alright right here and now and I’ll be alright.
What about you?
Do you wish you suffered with less anxiety and fear?
Try this the next time you feel it. Consciously determine if anxiety or excitement would be more useful for that situation. If someone is chasing you, then of course, you want to feel anxious and let your nervous system put you in the survival response of fight or flight.
But what if you’re standing in line at the grocery store? Or you’re starting a new job? Or meeting new people? Trying something new? Waking up in a panic attack in the middle of the night?
When you feel those heighted body sensations, tell your brain that you’re excited. Say it mentally and out loud if you can. Repeat it a few times or a hundred times. It might take some time for you to get used to the mindset change.
It may also help you to do some slow, deep breaths, just in case your brain isn’t quite getting the message just yet. But keep thinking, I’m excited!
Then, look for positive outcomes. It’s easy to automatically revert to seeing threats everywhere, so train yourself to look for the best outcomes. After all, how many times have we been anxious about something, and the perceived threat never even occurred? And we spent so much time agonizing in fear/anxiety, maybe so much that we got physically ill.
The “High Five” Mirror Habit
You can watch the ten-minute video from Mel Robbins if you want, but essentially, she challenges you to look at yourself in the mirror every day and give yourself a “high-five”.
Because your brain already knows (is neurologically wired) that when you give someone a “high-five”, you are celebrating them and giving them support.
It’s not so easy to do this for ourselves.
She says if you feel resistance, you may be dealing with emotions like shame or judgment. You may not feel worthy of your own celebration and support. She goes on to say,
“If you’re insecure with yourself, you’ll be insecure with other people. If you’re judgmental of yourself, you’ll fear the judgment of others. Build a new partnership with yourself by simply adding a high five in the mirror to your morning routine and you can bring that self to others.”
I’ve recently begun doing mirror work and I must say it can be powerful. First, I look deep into my eyes for about 30 seconds. The eyes are the window to the spirit, so I acknowledge that I am more than the flesh I see in the reflection. I am spirit, and I’ve been created by and am a reflection of God – the Cosmic Spirit.
Then I lovingly gaze at my face. No judgements in mirror work. I love it all – the wrinkles, the brown spots, the saggy skin, hair, the contour – all of it.
I am an individualized expression of God. What’s not to love?
Then I bring to mind my shadow parts or what I call “little me”. My inner child that still has some wounds to heal. She still feels anxiety and inner pain at times. She feels shame and regret. She feels alone. She feels afraid that she will never be good enough.
It’s usually at this point that tears begin welling up, not because I feel badly, but because I feel great compassion for “little me”. Baby me, toddler me, teenager me, adult me….all did the best they could under the circumstances and at their particular consciousness level.
Then, I simply say, “I love you sooooo much” over and over, until I feel it. Until I feel like “little me” feels it. Until I feel God enveloping us both in the kind of Love that never fails. The kind of Love we all desire.
And then, I smile, (you can’t help but smile) I lift my arm, and slap the mirror and give myself a “high-five”. I exuberantly say, “Let’s do this”, celebrating myself and feeling EXCITED about the day.
I don’t know if it’s working miracles just yet, but I know my mirror work is doing something!
And I’m excited 😉
Here is a link to Mel’s video on the “high five” habit:
While I’d love to say I never get anxious now, that’s not true. It knocks on my door plenty.
However, I have a pocket full of tools that I use to reduce the intensity and sometimes, the tools eliminate anxiety in the moment. Other times, I accept what is and do my best not to judge it. Or, I’ll use other tools I’ve learned, such as deep breathing, the 4-7-8 method, and more.
I will say daily meditation and prayer also help me feel more at peace, but that topic is for another article. Find what works for you and then, do it!
So, will you begin relabeling anxiety as excitement? Are you willing to do some daily mirror work?
Let me know your thoughts and what anxiety reduction techniques help you out.
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