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Transforming Anxiety into Excitement

Transforming Anxiety into Excitement

Last week I was listening to an episode of the Ezra Klein Show about how we make our emotions. (You can check out the podcast here. I highly recommend it.) She told a story about how her daughter was trying out for her black belt, and her sensai said to her before the test: “Let your butterflies fly in formation.” I LOVED this quote because it fits in with a lot of how I feel about the power of words and how they can impact our brain and physiological responses. (Your brain can hear you.) For me, it means that rather than swimming against the current of being nervous, we can reframe our nerves to help us. By telling our nerves to fly in formation, we are channeling the anxiety we feel before a big event or test into something useful. It can literally change how our body is feeling.

From what I know from both personal experience and therapy is that our bodily sensations seen through a different context can radically alter how our body feels in response. (There’s a really excellent video from The Atlantic here.) For example, let’s say you’re feeling unpleasant sensations (jittery, heart-racing) in your body before a big event. How do you define those sensations in your body? Being jittery with a racing heart can feel like anxiety–but doesn’t excitement also feel very similar? One way to approach these sensations in your body is to reframe it as excitement, rather than anxiety. How does it feel to say this: “I am excited for this new opportunity to grow and challenge myself” compared to this: “I am anxious about this situation”?

How do you reframe sensation in your body? The key is moving from the definition you’ve assigned the sensation (anxiety, excitement) and move into the sensations on their own. This can be done through mindfulness—it’s about stepping back and looking at your feelings. What am I feeling in my body right now? How can I use a different concept to understand what I’m feeling?

Of course, chronic and persistent anxiety that is disrupting your life can’t simply be reframed away—that’s why therapists exist. However, these are little tips and tricks to reframe and retool anxiety in normal, everyday situations that can provoke normal anxiety responses.

Anyways, I think it’s an awesome little trick and I am currently reading Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book “How Emotions Are Made” so MORE IS TO COME I PROMISE.

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