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Feeling Anxious? Tell Yourself You’re Excited

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
June 05, 2023

Everyone feels anxious at some point or another—whether before a first date, a big race, an important work presentation, or any number of stressful situations. Although feelings of anxiety often come with a negative connotation, they also have a lot in common with another emotion: excitement.

How Anxious Feelings and Excitement Are Similar

“Anxiety and excitement both involve physiological changes in the body,” says Supatra Tovar, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist based in Pasadena, California. “Both feelings tend to activate our sympathetic nervous system—our fight-or-flight nervous system.” This may come with symptoms such as:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Clammy hands
  • Flushed cheeks
  • Stomach butterflies
  • Dilated pupils
  • Heightened senses
  • Tense, twitchy muscles
  • Adrenaline rush

The difference between anxiety and excitement may be in the eye of the beholder. “Anxiety is usually associated with a negative perception of the future, and excitement is connected to a positive view of the future,” Tovar says.

The good news? Because these two emotions have so much in common, it may be possible to reframe anxious feelings into excitement.

“A big part of how we experience these physiological sensations and emotions is how we label them,” says Alice Connors-Kellgren, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston. “By labeling that feeling as excitement rather than anxiety, we can completely transform our experience. We can start to harness that energy and that sympathetic nervous system activation to do things that we want to do, like accomplish goals.”

3 Ways to Turn Anxious Feelings into Excitement

Next time an anxious feeling comes on, you can try these strategies to harness that emotion and help turn it into excitement instead.

Pause and Say You’re Excited

When you notice you’re feeling anxious, take a beat before anything else. Oftentimes, people will automatically try to find the source and shut it down—either try to get out of it or calm down, says Connors-Kellgren. “But pause rather than doing that, and either label the feeling as excitement or just neutrally observe what’s happening. That can be really helpful.”

You can also try looking at your feelings in a different way. “It can also be helpful to think about these shifts as not necessarily being indicators of emotion, but just that your body is getting ready to manage a situation right now,” Connors-Kellgren continues. “That can help us experience those shifts as opportunities rather than something that we have to control.”

In fact, research suggests that, instead of trying to calm down, reframing anxiety into excitement not only is easier but also may actually improve your ability to tackle the task that’s making you anxious. The next time an anxious feeling crops up, try this approach with the following simple strategies:

  • Approach the situation at hand as an opportunity rather than a threat.
  • Implement a “Get excited!” mantra.
  • Actually say the words “I’m excited!” out loud.

Imagine Everything Going Right

The power of your imagination is strong, and that can be used to your benefit. “Often when we’re anxious, we’re imagining a frightful future,” Tovar says. “It’s just as possible to imagine an exciting future with the outcome you desire.” You can make that happen by practicing visualization, or intentionally guiding your anxious thoughts into mental images that are more positive.

When you encounter an anxious moment, Tovar recommends these visualization steps:

  1. Imagine the feeling of excitement that would come from achieving the most positive outcome, like acing your work presentation.
  2. Flood your thoughts with positive emotions while visualizing the most positive outcome.

“This visualization practice tends to reduce anxiety and associated negativity, which can then help you ultimately relax,” Tovar says. “When we are relaxed and focused on the outcome we want, we are also more likely to visualize the steps necessary to achieve these dreams and take [those steps].”

Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy aimed at helping you change the way you think about and react to anxious feelings, and reframe them into something more productive to help you cope.

“With the benefit of reflection, we can usually conclude that these [anxious] thoughts are less likely, unnecessary, and unhelpful,” Tovar says. “By overcoming the hold these anxiety-inducing thoughts have, we open ourselves to seeing exciting possibilities, which makes us feel happier and brings about the positive behaviors that lead us toward our goals.”

CBT strategies that are commonly used to manage anxiety are mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, visualization, and meditation. To find a therapist who practices CBT, check out the directories from Psychology Today or the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies.

The Lasting Benefit of Transforming Anxious Feelings into Excitement

Learning how to transform anxious feelings into excitement can not only help you get through an anxiety-provoking moment but also provide long-term benefits, according to Tovar.

“Adopting healthier methods of coping with anxiety tends to lead to better handling of stress, deadlines, and the pressures of our everyday lives,” Tovar says. “We also see an increase in positive outlook and emotions, in addition to increases in self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-compassion.”

Still, not all anxious feelings can be converted into something more positive. If you experience anxious feelings that regularly interfere with your everyday life—at school or work, or in your social life and relationships—it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about any persistent and bothersome feelings so you can get the help you deserve.

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