One of this year’s favorite memes was the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, with many people replacing the “carry on” part with their own twists on the statement, such as “Keep Calm and Eat Bacon.” It appears 2013 was the year of relaxation, or at least a reminder to chill out.
Keeping calm, though, doesn’t always work. In fact, getting excited may be more beneficial if you’re suffering from performance anxiety, like public speaking or taking tests.
“Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective,” said Alison Wood Brooks, Ph.D., of Harvard Business School. “When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.”
Brooks and colleagues led several experiments at Harvard University to learn more about performance and anxiety. In one experiment, participants who said “I am excited” gave longer speeches and were more persuasive, competent and relaxed than those who said “I am calm” before a speech.
“The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel,” Brooks said.
Anxiety and excitement are cut from the same sheet (high arousal), so it may be easier and more beneficial to go along with the feeling than fight it by trying to be calm.
“When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats,” Brooks said. “In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying ‘I’m excited’ out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement.”
(Image: Created on Keep Calm Studio)