Woman jumping over puddle

When someone’s feeling anxious, we have a tendency to offer the most predictable advice  for anxiety– like, ever. For example:

“Calm down.”

“Don’t worry.”

“Just breathe.”

“Pace yourself.”

We offer these words of wisdom even though personal experience has taught us they’re of no help whatsoever. If anything, we end up feeling even more anxious than when we started. The good news is, we can finally stop throwing more panic into the anxiety pool by rocking the anxiousness we’re already feeling. Snoopy dance, anyone? Here’s the 411:

Why Calm Is Overrated

Say you’ve got a big presentation coming up, an important phone call to make, or an interview for your dream career – in fact, any big life moment will do. We’re instinctively compelled to go against feeling anxious and instead put all of our efforts into staying calm and collected. While this is an understandable instinct, a new study from Harvard Business School has revealed getting excited helps with performance anxiety more than trying to calm down.

The Study Deets

One of their study trials involved karaoke (which is an activity I consistently have nightmares about): 113 participants were assigned to a certain emotion before performing a song. Some were assigned to say they were anxious, others excited, calm, angry or sad. Then, as the terrifying (at least, to me) pastime goes, they went on to sing a popular song. All participants monitored their heart rates to effectively measure their anxiety.

Participants who were excited scored an average of 80 percent on their song, compared to the anxious who scored a measly 53 percent. (Womp, womp.) What’s more, the excited really did feel more excited and confident about their singing ability by the end of the process.

In another, participants were told to prepare a speech that would be videotaped and judged. Before the speech, subjects were told to say “I’m excited,” or “I’m calm.” Ironically, the excited gave longer speeches and were more relaxed than those who said they were calm!

Why Not Give It a Try?

“The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel,” says Brooks. If you’re feeling anxious and typically view this as a sign that something bad might happen, instead of resisting that feeling, reframe it as your body preparing for an upcoming challenge.

Focus on potential opportunities instead of threats – not only will you perform better, you’ll also find each new challenge a much more enjoyable experience.

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious?

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Image: Rachel Tanugi Ribas