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.

image sources: girl sitting in chair from yaya, hands via rosa murcha, girl looking up via the lilac road, girl with books by cass bird via vogue

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Comments (16)
  1. 1
    Career Contessa July 13, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. 2
    clairenconnell July 14, 2016 at 11:05 am

    This is SO good! Wow. Saying “I’m excited for this” totally conquers that fear! xx

  3. 3
    Jessica C July 15, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    I can so identify every step suggested in this post. It’s something I practice too, the whole “channeling nervous energy as excitement”. It is very real to me..

    Take the example of me asking a question during Career Contessa’s networking event on Wednesday. I was nervous to speak up in front of a room full of ambitious business women. But I told myself that this is because I am really excited about being part of this important conversation we are having. Not to mention the whiteboard behind the panelist said “You got this, babe.” – it gave me so much courage!

    Anyhow, I love this post! Very well written.

    Jessica, also-just-turned-30-and-so-slightly-wiser

  4. 4
    GiGiMandy July 16, 2016 at 10:57 am

    This is great advice. I’m thinking as an encourager, maybe we should not ask our children or friends “Are you nervous?” but rather “Are you Excited?”
    Technical question: I love how you have your question to us as a prompt to comment. How do you do this?

  5. 5
    susan July 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

    So “Stay calm and carry on” is not really the best advice … being excited is better!

  6. 6
    Vonnie July 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    I take 3 deep breaths and think of the outcome

  7. 7
    Alina Tarmu July 16, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    I have always suspected that anxiety is a form of valuable mental energy improperly channeled. In this light, this “reappraisal” technique makes a lot of sense from a neurolinguistic programming stand point.

  8. 8
    Jacqueline Fierstein July 17, 2016 at 12:30 am

    So, what about the just-turned-50-and want to be so much wiser? How do we fit into this world of the young?

  9. 9
    Do You Even Lift Girls July 17, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Awesome blog post, definitely going to remember this!

  10. 10
    Christina Vanvuren July 17, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    This resonated with me a lot. I often find myself in panic mode when it comes to my freelancing career. I’m going to try these tips! Thank you!

  11. 11
    Sinead July 18, 2016 at 6:55 am

    Such a great tip, I suffer from anxiety and it’s so hard to calm down. The more you try, the more anxious you get to twisting it around to be excitement is such a great angle to take!


  12. 12
    Blanche July 18, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    This is great advice! Whenever I have to face an anxiety-inducing task, I tell myself I have done worse in my life, or at least something equally hard, and the results were great. So why shouldn’t it go well this time too? I also know that my anxiety is just me getting ready to perform to my highest level. As soon as the task starts, I go from anxious to highly focused, because hey, what do I have to lose now? There’s no more time to think about what could go wrong, I just have to make it go right! And if something does go wrong, I have not lost anything – I have just learnt a very useful lesson which will prevent me from making the same mistakes next time.

  13. 13
    Sanchari Das July 18, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    I am not really good at channeling anxiety into productive thoughts .. I am gonna use these tips.

  14. 14
    Emily July 22, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    Some great steps! That said, as someone who has been diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety, anxiety reappraisal isn’t something that is always possible. I believe there is a clear difference between being nervous about something and having anxiety.