Beat Fire with Fire
I just want to start by saying that this is not my concept and I have learned about it in an article from Olga Khazan in the Health section of ‘The Atlantic‘. I recommend that you read it for yourself and look up this technique as I have. My goal today is just to share this idea if it’s new to you as it was for me, because it makes so much sense! This is ‘my take’, on another person’s take…if that makes any sense!
This technique is both strange, counterintuitive and yet somehow makes sense. It’s called ‘anxiety reappraisal’ and this is how it works. You’re getting really worked up as you keep thinking right? Your thoughts race faster and faster until you wish you could jump out of your skin to escape the knot forming in your stomach, the band around your chest, the shaking, the heat…I’ll let you fill in what anxiety does to YOU. What if before it becomes insurmountably high…we could trick our own nervous system?
Alison Wood Brooks is a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the physiological effects of anxiety. If you’ve ever wondered as I’ve have about why anxiety feels like the super crappy and painful twist on joy and excitement, you’ve come to the right professor! It’s a strange concept and yet it does make logical sense.
Science + my little rant:
Anxiety and excitement are apparently both ‘aroused emotions’ meaning they cause cortisol to rise along with heart rate and readiness for action. I see it like a similar process to fight or flight but I could be totally off. (As I mentioned, you should probably check out the article.)
Now I get to vent a bit on the part of…well I’m guessing most of us, and say that SEE! Do you get it now?! (I’m talking to every person who has placated us with their condescending and painfully simplistic “Just calm down.” No I will NOT calm down by you saying that…it’s like, WOW! I wish I’d thought of that. You’re a genius! And besides, this technique is different from that idea.
When you begin speaking about or thinking to yourself in terms of anxiety, that’s a big warning to switch! You might be thinking “I’m so anxious for this exam-board meeting-interview-social event-presentation…” Fill in the blank. I don’t know about you but this is super frequent with me. 3 years ago it would have been an almost constant inner monologue in fact. The idea is to stop programming the thought of anxiety. This makes sense, because the more we say or think something, the more we tend to believe it.
Even if you don’t believe a word you’re saying, repeat the same phrases but use excitement instead. “I am so excited for this exam!” “I can’t wait for this interview!” I know, I know, we’re all incredibly dubious, but I’m gonna give it a try anyway. It worked once already so I see potential.
If you’re wondering why this isn’t mentioning the idea of calming down, this is the professors’ brief explanation; “For most people, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones.” So while a state of calm is indeed a positive emotion, it doesn’t have the same ‘arousal’. In other words by my understanding, it’s easier to change from one high intensity emotion to another since your chemical state is already there, rather than to jump from high intensity to very low intensity.
I just thought this would be interesting to share, but I definitely still believe in deep breathing, meditation and other calming exercises. They all have their place, I think.
I’ll end by repeating Olga Khazan’s personal take on the usual ‘Keep calm and carry on.”
“Get Amped and Don’t Screw Up.”
If you found this helpful, you may want to take a look at Strategies to Beat Overwhelming Anxiety – Part 1