Dec 26, 2013 05:10 PM EST
Excitement Can Overcome Anxiety
Getting excited, as opposed to remaining calm, can improve people's performance during anxiety-inducing activities such as public speaking and math tests, the Times of India reported.
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Researchers at Harvard University found that simple statements about excitement could improve performance during activities that triggered anxiety.
"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," Alison Wood Brooks, study author and assistant professor at Harvard Business School, said in a statement. "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."
Researchers conducted several experiments to prove this hypothesis, the Times of India reported.
In one experiment, they asked 140 participants to prepare a persuasive public speech on why they would be good work partners. To increase anxiety, a researcher videotaped the speeches and said they would be judged by a committee, according to a press release by Harvard University.
Participants were instructed to say "I am excited" or "I am calm" before delivering the speech. Based on rating given by individual evaluators, researchers found that those who said they were excited gave longer, competent and more persuasive speeches.
"The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel," Brooks said.
In another experiment, 188 participants were given difficult math problems after they read "try to get excited" or "try to remain calm." Researchers set up control group that didn't read any statement.
Researchers found that participants in the excited group scored 8 percent higher on average than the calm group and the control group, and they reported feeling more confident about their math skills after the test.
In a statement, Brooks noted that anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal and it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety.
"When you feel anxious, you're ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats," she 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."
The study was published in American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.