Anxiety or Excitement? What am I feeling right now? I think I should be excited but I can feel my body being flooded with anxiety.
How many times have you felt this? Whether it’s a few times or thousands, it will still take chunks out of your confidence.
I’m an introvert and I like nothing more then spending an evening at home watching a box set. On the rare occasion that I agree to go out into the world to meet friends, I end up stressed out with anxiety before I’ve even got dressed.
It starts off slowly. I’ll do something innocent like wonder where I should park the car. Then the ‘what ifs’ start showing up. These are the pesky blighters who show up uninvited and make the whole thing a million times worse. They usually start small and are things that could happen but then spiral into wild, unrealistic scenarios.
The What Ifs
- I can’t find somewhere to park
- There’s traffic and I’m late. I hate being late!
- People stare at me as I walk in the room. That would be even worse if I was late!
- I do something to make a fool of myself
- I fall asleep at the table? I’m usually in bed by 9:30pm
- My skirt gets caught in the door and rips
- I bang into a waiter and end up covered in food
- Or worse, someone else ends up covered in food because I’m a clumsy idiot
- My bank card gets declined even though I know there’s enough money in the account
- No-one else turns up and I have to sit there on my own!
Breath. Just take a breathe. Surely I should be excited about going to meet friends for an evening filled with laughter and food? Logically, the emotion I should be feeling right now is excitement so why am I so anxious?
The Science Bit
The body can’t tell the difference between anxiety and excitement. When our brains feel that we’re under threat, our nervous system triggers physical symptoms to try to keep us safe. We feel our heart race so we can sprint away from the danger. You might get a bit sweaty as the body tries to cool us down. You feel nauseous or a bit queasy (this is our digestion slowing down as our body thinks it’s got more important things to worry about right now!). AKA fight or flight response.
Anxiety and excitement are both arousal emotional experiences. The brain flicks through it’s filing cabinet of experiences and picks the one that’s most common in this situation. If my ‘go to’ is to feel anxious instead of excitement in this type of situation then that’s what the brain will always select. It doesn’t know any different so we have to teach it.
How to Retrain Your Brain
In order to get your brain to stop picking anxiety over excitement, you need to become more aware of the emotions at the time and question them. What exactly am I feeling right now? Is that feeling appropriate? Am I about to put myself in danger? Why would the thought of spending time with my amazing friends cause these feelings? Etc etc.
Then you need to re-label it! “I am excited!” Say it again! Scream it out loud! Chant it to yourself!
Ok so it’s really easy to say but isn’t as easy to put into practice. You have to teach yourself to be aware of your emotions as they happen. It’s harder for some people too so don’t beat yourself up if you struggle with this bit.
Maybe you got anxious earlier today and didn’t try the reframing exercise because your brain was too busy to remind you to do it. Ask yourself “What can I learn from my experience? How would I like to deal with it next time?” This is a new habit to learn, a new skill to master and it will take time. Allow yourself the time.
Other ‘Anxiety or Excitement’ Scenarios
I used one of the many scenarios that have caused me anxiety as an example. This technique can apply to pretty much anything, you just have to find a way to reframe it.
Are you anxious about a job interview? “I’m excited to meet new people and possibly start a new career path.”
Are you anxious about a first date? “My future happiness does not depend on this date, I’m excited to have a few hours in the company of someone new.”
Are you anxious about a doctors appointment? “Worrying won’t change anything so I’ll focus on how brave I’m being right now.”
Do you need to apologise to someone or have an awkward conversation? “I need to face up to this and I shall feel better for not running away from it.”
It’s easy to put something off because we’re anxious rather than taking the bull by the horns and getting on with it. Procrastination or avoidance might take the edge off the anxiety for a little while but it’ll still be there bubbling away. If we take anxiety on, we take control again and this will leave us feeling proud of ourselves for doing so!
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