Anxious? Why “Stay Calm” Might Be the Worst Thing to Tell Yourself

Anxious woman bites nails

What’s your go-to move when you feel yourself on the verge of a freak-out? Telling yourself to take a deep breath and chill out might be exactly the wrong strategy. PysBlog reports on research by Alison Woods Brooks that suggests that hitting the emotional gas pedal might get you into the clear. Subjects who told themselves “I’m feeling excited” out-performed those who told themselves to “calm down” when faced with anxiety over public speaking.

I don’t know why this would work, I don’t have the $12 to download Brooks’ report. A barely educated guess is that anxiety bathes your neurosystem with cortisol, the “fight or flight” stress hormone that makes you cramp up and totally choke when you step up to a podium. And guess what hormone is also responsible for the rush that comes when you’re totally stoked, bungee jumping or riding down a steep hill on your fixie? Yep, it’s cortisol.

What differentiates cold-sweating fear and jubilation? Seems like the physiology might be the same – it’s how you interpret what’s happening that makes the difference.

[Photo via MaxwellGS]