By Emma Stessman
Your heart’s racing, your palms are sweating, and your mind seems to be moving a mile a minute. You’re experiencing the telltale signs of stress, right? Or, maybe you’re just excited about what’s about to happen?
According to experts, there’s a pretty fine line between the two. Stress and excitement are both high-energy states that get your blood pumping and adrenaline flowing, and which one you experience may simply be a matter of perspective.
“While they’re both arousal emotions, they differ in that as far as stress is concerned, you feel like things are not in your control. It’s the message that you’re giving to yourself that you can’t handle it,” says Greg Kushnick, Psy.D, a New York City-based therapist. “As opposed to excitement, which doesn’t involve things being out of control, but rather an anticipation and a wish to enter the situation.”
By employing a few easy mental strategies, you can actually use the similarities between stress and excitement to your advantage and transform stressful situations from healthy lifestyle-killers into positive opportunities. Here, experts share three tactics to try.
How to Turn Stress into Opportunities
1. See the positive.
“Make a list of all the opportunities and how things could go well for upcoming tasks, rather than thinking or ruminating about how you might fail,” says Alison Woods Brooks, Ph.D, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and the author of a famous study about rethinking performance anxiety. For example, if you have a big presentation coming up at work, rather than focusing on how nervous you are, think of it as a chance to show your boss that you deserve that promotion you’ve been vying for…or at least as an opportunity to show off your mad Powerpoint skills to your coworkers. “Having an opportunity mindset makes you feel more excited; thinking about threats makes you anxious,” Dr. Woods Brooks says.
2. Reinterpret physical cues.
“When you feel the physical symptoms of anxiety, reinterpret those symptoms,” says Dr. Kushnick. “So instead of saying, ‘my heart is beating so fast I must be anxious,’ say, ‘my heart is beating so fast I must be really excited.’”
In fact, in Dr. Woods Brooks’ study, she found that simply saying the words “I’m excited,” helped people perform better in a variety of settings (like singing and public speaking). Trying saying “I’m excited,” both out loud to yourself in the mirror and to others when they ask you how you’re feeling. If you say something enough, you may just start to believe it.
3. Put on your headphones.
Inspired by Dr. Woods Brooks, Melissa Dahl, author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness devised a helpful strategy to use before any big event. “Before I have to do something mildly terrifying, like giving a presentation or attending an important meeting, I go somewhere quiet, put in my earbuds, and listen to ‘I’m So Excited’ by the Pointer Sisters,” she says in her book. For days when the self-talk doesn’t feel quite convincing enough, this could be just the thing you need. Plus, listening to music is a scientifically proven way to relieve stress, so it’s a surefire way to feel calmer, no matter what.