Most of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our lives – whether that be public speaking, a driving test, meeting new people, starting a new University, beginning a business venture or maybe going to a yoga class for the first time. Anxiety has been given a bad rap for such a long time, and rightly so – it has a negative effect on us both mentally and physically, can debilitate our decision making and in some cases, freeze us entirely. I want to challenge the status quo in this article by applying both my own experiences and scientific research which may help us break free from anxiety and fear.
When we are paralysed by anxiety, the first piece of advice we are given (and often recite to ourselves) is to “try and remain calm”. Whilst this is common practice, research suggests that coupled with anxiety, trying to create calm within this space is a recipe for disaster and can actually produce negative results. So what should we do when we are faced with a potentially fearful situation? Don’t get calm, get excited!
Re-framing a situation as exciting rather than how calm you should be for has been found to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety. When University students recited emotions of enjoyment and excitement toward their public speeches, they were rated 17 percent more persuasive and 15 percent more confident than those who branded themselves as calm. It also boosted their speeches by 29 percent and it has even been found to improve tough maths tests by up to 22 percent.
Whilst writing this article I am acutely aware of two things: 1) this theory doesn’t feel very ‘yoga-like’ and 2) I’m posting this in a blog which is dedicated to all things yoga. However, when I researched this idea in more depth I realised that this ‘new’ idea closely resembles ancient ‘yang’ principles in yoga. When we think of yoga we often think of calmness, stillness (Yin). All to often practices in yoga tend to leave yang ideologies somewhat neglected. In Taoism Yang is described as the opposite of yin – it is vibrant, bright, active and exciting. Most importantly, both should work together in harmony.
Reflecting on my own personal experience I realise that I have unconciously been tapping into the confident, vibrant yang side of life every time I am placed in a daunting situation. At University I remember standing up and acing an important presentation. Prior to this I looked into the sociological impact of British American football. I took notes, watched videos, spoke to people about it and genuinely got as excited and enthusiastic as I could about it. When I got to the front of the class I wasn’t concerned with how calm I was, my heart was racing and I was itching to tell my peers what I have learned. When I go for regular blood tests I don’t dwell on my fear of needles, I imagine the fun and interesting chats I have with the nurse or some fun thing I’ll be doing afterwards. Before an important game of football I get excited over the freedom of running onto the pitch, the changing dynamics of the game and visualising the potential goals I could score. In fact, my best yoga sessions usually happen when after belting out a few songs on the drive over and getting excited about some new postures I’ve been planning to try out. That’s not to see these moments have been erratic and stressful in anyway, in fact, the yin seems to find me at just the right time and create a dynamic but focused kind of energy, one which is difficult to put into words. It starts to become natural – you feel so energetic and sporadic, yet so in control. So vulnerable, yet so protected. Your mind is buzzing, but it is channeled perfectly.
But don’t just take my word for it, many studies have concluded similar opinions (albeit not as yogic). When students belted out “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey into a microphone – those with “excited” affirmations performed more than 30 percent better on the Nintendo Wii than those who were encourage to “remain calm”. Lewis Pugh, an extreme cold water swimmer swears by this theory. When completing a record breaking swim through the North Pole, he put three key indicators to get him excited about his swim. National flags along reminded him of the 29 people across 10 countries who made the swim possible. He then focused his energies on those who have inspired him prior to the swim and was told to get excited about the impact his legacy will have on reducing climate changing (something that he is both excited and enthusiastic about advocating). Pugh reflects that after following these key strategies in getting excited about the swim, the idea of abandoning it was completely gone and he dove into the icy cold water and finished in under 20 minutes with no physical damage whatsoever – three years later he then decided to swim across the highest lake on Mount Everest just for good measure.
So give this unconventional method a go when you next feel anxiety creeping in. Think of this emotion like a turbo-charged sports car. The vehicle has incredible energy and an astounding amount of momentum. The last thing you want to do is to suppress such this by slamming the breaks on through a forcible ‘calm’. Whilst the momentum is there, don’t let it consume you, instead convert it into excitement – it will propel you forward but will allow you do keep both hands on the wheel. Only then can true yin energy find us and channel such a beautiful and vibrant force creating the harmonious culmination of Yin and Yang.
Thanks for reading 🙂