Don’t Keep Calm…

Heather Callaghan

It looks like the American Psychological Association (APA) is now interested in the power of language and its physiological effects on the body. Interestingly, some new research offered a solution right in its results that did not involve drugs. A technique like this could prove helpful to people who want to prevent panic attacks, dreadful doldrums and dead-end medication.

Although counter-intuitive, getting excited helps with performance anxiety more than trying to calm down, and using certain statements can manufacture the remedy, creating major biochemical changes. There is a reason why not forcing oneself to calm down might work to improve our outlook.

The study recently published by the APA in their Journal of Experimental Psychology used real-world examples from scenarios that invoke a lot of anxiety such as public speaking, singing and math tests. But, the results can be applied to any life situation.

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Study author, Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, of Harvard Business School said:

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.  

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.

Although the several experiments conducted at Harvard University with college students and townspeople were small scale, the test itself could be tried out – and verified – by anyone. Simple statements about excitement could improve performance during activities that trigger anxiety.

“The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel,” said Brooks. The impression this writer is getting from the tests is that telling yourself something you don’t actually believe is counter-productive, whereas riding along with it can harness that energy.

In one experiment, 140 participants (63 men and 77 women) had to prepare a persuasive public speech and basically audition why they would be good work partners. Anxiety was purposely increased by a researcher who recorded the speeches and said they would be judged by a committee. Before delivering the speech, participants were instructed to either say “I am excited” or “I am calm.” The subjects who said they were excited gave longer speeches and were more persuasive, competent and relaxed than those who said they were calm, according to rated evaluations.

Another experiment: 188 participants (80 men and 108 women), were given difficult math problems after they read “try to get excited” or “try to remain calm.” A control group didn’t read any statement. 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.

One more trial: 113 participants (54 men and 59 women) were randomly assigned to say that they were anxious, excited, calm, angry or sad before singing a popular rock song on a karaoke video game console. A control group didn’t make any statement. All of the participants monitored their heart rates using a pulse meter strapped onto a finger to measure their anxiety.

Participants who said they were excited scored an average of 80 percent on the song based on their pitch, rhythm and volume as measured by the video game’s rating system. Those who said they were calm, angry or sad scored an average of 69 percent, compared to 53 percent for those who said they were anxious. Participants who said they were excited also reported feeling more excited and confident in their singing ability.

An experiment like this probably cannot take into account each person’s constitution (in simplified terms, their personalities). But, as Brooks said, since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat [or resist] performance anxiety.

She adds:

When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats. 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.

Another impression to take from this research is not so much about positivity – after all, the idea of calming down probably sprang up in an effort to lower negativity (and blood pressure). But rather it’s the idea of being friends with anxiety and going through it rather than denying or resisting. Additionally, the researchers are concluding that affirmations might not work if untrue, yet also show the power of language and self-talk.

Outside of this, I highly recommend the Rescue Remedy for anxiety and any type of life’s upsets. It was developed in the 20th century by Dr. Edward Bach from the essence (not oil) of flowers and works similar to homeopathy.

If you try this experiment, let us know what happened.

Study & Source:

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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