“I’m really excited to get to work tomorrow and see what my boss does next, and how well I cope with it”
“I am really looking forward to the Christmas party where I know nobody and don’t speak the language, it will be an adventure”
Does this sound like you? Probably not, but it’s a great technique to help people conquer their fears by flipping their thoughts around from fear to excitement; from crippling to enabling.
The process of anxiety involves our brain surveying our environment, deciding there is a potential danger and flooding the body with stress hormones such as cortisol, the fight or flight sequence that enables us to respond quickly. Often this process is triggered by memories of times when we have felt fear, such as standing up to speak in public or entering a crowded room at a party where we don’t know anyone, and while there isn’t a life-threatening situation, our brain still reacts as though there is.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily true if we are facing a true danger such as being in the path of an oncoming car, when your brain needs to signal to your body that you need to save yourself. That’s when our anxiety system is working well for us. However, there are other times when it fails us, opportunities where we can be feeling fear about a situation to the extent that it becomes overwhelming, even crippling.
At these times, most people say take some deep breaths to try and calm down, but instead say ‘I am excited’. Here’s why this works - both fear and excitement are states of high arousal where the body is preparing for action, so it’s much easier to go from anxious to excitement than from anxious to calm, which is generally what we are asking our brain and body to do when we combat the fear with breathing or just avoidance (the latter can set us up for all kinds of problems down the road, so it’s generally better to avoid avoidance!).
Here are some things to remember:
- We all have things that make us anxious, so there is nothing unusual about your thoughts and feelings.
- We DO have control over our thoughts and feelings.
- When we get irrational fear-based thoughts and feelings, we need to grab them and deal with them before they settle down and decide to stick around
- Both the emotions of fear and excitement come from the same starting place, it is how we choose to respond to them that will inform our experience
- When you change a threat mindset to one of opportunity, from what could go wrong to what could go well, research shows that our performance improves, so take the high arousal and flip it around to your advantage.
Give this technique a try next time you feel anxious about something you are putting off or dreading and see what happens!
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counseling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Find my details on the Contact page and drop me an email, and I'll contact you to arrange a no-obligation chat where you can tell me more about your problem and ask questions about the process of therapy.