Anxiety seems to be a natural part of today’s 9-5. We frantically answer emails all day long, avoid ever saying “no” because of some crazy fear that we might miss out on the next big thing, and then, of course, there’s our obsession with needing to know exactly what’s next. What’s my next career move? Is this guy going to be my future husband? Am I wasting my time living in this city?
One part of me wants to just say, “Hey, accept that stress and anxiety are part of your life and move on,” but fortunately, the just-turned-30-and-so-slightly-wiser me recently read an Atlantic article that claimed anxiety could actually be channeled into success.
It turns out that you can get rid of anxiety, simply by telling yourself you’re excited whenever you feel nervous. This little trick is called “anxiety reappraisal” and although it’s simple, studies have proven it to be effective. For example, you’d might find yourself saying the following out loud:
“I’m really excited to give this presentation in front of my boss and entire company.”
“I’m excited to be interviewing for this management job and to take on the challenge of managing people for the first time.”
“I’m excited to be moving to a new city where I don’t know anyone. There are lots of opportunites for me to explore, and I can’t wait for what’s ahead.”
So how exactly does anxiety reappraisal work? It turns out your brain doesn’t treat anxiety and excitement much differently because they’re both “aroused emotions that cause your heart to beat faster, cortisol levels to surge, and the body prepare for action, says Olga Khazan. The only difference is that anxiety is a negative emotion while excitement is a positive.
To turn your anxiety in your favor, you’ll want to do the following:
1. Don’t tell yourself to calm down.
The state of feeling calm is a “low arousal” emotion, so it takes your brain and body a long time (and a lot of energy) to shift from anxious to calm. Instead, take the path of least resistance. Telling yourself you’re excited means you’re just jumping from a charged-up negative emotion to a charged-up positive emotion. So, even if you’re not really excited, your body won’t know the difference.
2. Get into an “opportunity mindset.”
By telling yourself you’re excited instead of anxious, you’ll start to focus on the good things that can come out of the experience in question. This is a dramatically different state than when you’re in a “threat mindset,” thinking about the consequences. Instant anxiety. Let’s say you’re giving a presentation in front of your entire company. Once you’re excited about it, your “opportunity mindset” kicks in, letting you start to think about, say, a future promotion after you impress everyone.
3. Practice being excited.
Not all of us will be able to seamlessly let go of our anxiety by replacing it with excitement—shifting your perspective is hard. But you can get closer to being less anxious through daily practice. Each morning, create a list of the day’s anxiety-inducing tasks, then write down exactly how the task could go well. How will you benefit when the tasks goes well, and who will be positively affected by that? How will that change your life for the better?
It’s time to stop letting anxiety rule you and your 9-5. Go ahead and replace it. Maybe those posters should actually say “Keep Excited and Carry On.”
Lauren McGoodwin is the Founder of Career Contessa, an online career development and mentorship platform for women. Through expert career advice, one-on-one career counseling, online workshops, and job listings, Career Contessa gives you the resources to find a job you love—and be successful in it.