Anxiety or Excitement?

How can we tell the difference?

After all, these emotions share so many similarities.

Anxiety (nerves or worry) and excitement can all result in that feeling in your stomach or head – maybe both?

That’s because they are all arousal emotions, cortisol surges and the body becomes action ready and prepares itself – for what? When we’re anxious, we may feel tensions, restless and nervous. We may also start sweating, breathing rapidly, have trouble concentrating and have an increased heart rate. And this is similar to how we react when excited. Both leave us feeling in a hyper arousal state.

That’s when our interpretation comes in as we all know that public speaking is exciting for some and terrifying for others. In other words, if we recognise these feelings as positive, we’ll feel excited. If we see them as negative, we’ll feel anxious. And this has been proven by research too.

What’s important to remember is that excitement is accompanied by positive outcomes and expectations, what you are looking forward to. The others are accompanied by the complete opposite, dread, fear of failure or a negative outcome.

So how can you re-frame anxiety to excitement?

Well our brains do an interesting thing called brain rehearsal.

When we think of a future event, we have an expectation –

What normally happens here?

If the outcome is positive, then we are more likely to feel excited about it.

However, if the outcome is negative or unknown then we are more likely to feel anxious, nervous or worry.

All these emotions require a level of imagination therefore using this innate ability in your own best interest can re-frame your expectation. Imagine that the future event goes well, that you enjoy it. This takes some practice before it starts to become automatic and more natural.

It’s also very easy to switch from anxiety, nerves or worry to excitement as these emotions are both hyper arousal states – an opposing state is calm – even though it is positive and shares similarities to excitement, calm is low arousal.

That’s means it takes more mental effort to jump from anxiety to calm.

Hyper arousal negative state to low arousal positive state.

The good news is that strategies can easily be implemented and skills learnt to be able to do this. This then has even greater benefits far beyond the event itself, switching to positive low arousal states can lead to better sleep, more cognitive function and sense of re-balancing our bodies systems.