These niggling stressors can be confusing—they're tethered to exciting future plans, after all. So why is it, then, that some of us somehow always manage to turn happy anticipation into feelings more akin to anxiety? And how can we turn that anxiety into excitement?
Yasmine Saad, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Madison Park Psychological Services, says some of us are simply hardwired to worry—and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this type of “defensive pessimism” is a psychological phenomenon that exists to protect humans from disappointment or danger. In small quantities, she says, defensive pessimism can be healthy and even make us feel good or want to take action. But when the worrying becomes all-consuming? That's when it can become more of a problem.
“Think of it like a roller-coaster: It should stimulate a little bit of excitement, a little bit of anxiety, a little fear,” says Dr. Saad. “Anticipation and anxiety are healthy in-balance, but some of the time, it tips over.” So when our anxieties, much like a roller-coaster, become too scary, it won’t be fun anymore.
But, if you skew more glass-half-empty, not to worry—there are ways to transform anxiety feelings into ones of excitement. Here’s how:
4 ideas for how to turn anxiety into excitement
1. Figure out the ‘unmet desires’ that are triggering your anxiety
Often, says Dr. Saad, we worry because we actually want something. In going back to that romantic vacation example, consider that you might be worried about packing, because you’re afraid you won’t get it all done and you’ll ultimately miss your trip. And you really want to take that trip.
A first step for reframing your negative thoughts, in this case, is to identify what it is that you want. “Approach life through empowerment by connecting with the unmet desire that is triggering your anxiety,” says Dr. Saad. “Now, take action to meet that desire."
2. Be friends with your pessimism
Given that defensive pessimism can actually be a good thing, consider reframing the spirit of seeing the half-empty glass into a positive by simply embracing your pessimism. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, says we should work to not be hypercritical of a part of ourselves that’s coming from a good place.
“The opposite would be…only expecting rainbows and sunshine, then being wholly unprepared when challenges occur,” she says. “A certain amount of defensive pessimism is helpful.” Remember, you’re not worried, you’re just always prepared. And that’s a great thing.
3. Congratulate yourself
Dr. Carmichael says this tip is super helpful for people who can actively recognize they're prone to worrying and know they can’t wear rose-colored glasses, no matter how exciting the future might be. This self-awareness, she says, is a good thing and makes rerouting into optimism simpler.
“Your awareness of the fact that you’re starting to go off in a gloomy place is actually a step in the right direction. Congratulate yourself on seeing that.” —Chloe Carmichael, PhD
“Your awareness of the fact that you’re starting to go off in a gloomy place is actually a step in the right direction,” Dr. Carmichael says. “There’s a part of you that recognizes that maybe this is a little bit more intense than it needs to be. Congratulate yourself on seeing that.”
4. Turn that restless energy into productivity
Both Drs. Saad and Carmichael suggest working to harness worries into something actionable. If your nervousness can be channeled into productivity, go do it (i.e., pack those bags—now!). Exercise and anxiety also go together, so getting a workout in can be another way to burn that excess energy.
“We want to make sure that we don’t waste that energy ruminating or spinning out about catastrophic scenarios,” says Dr. Carmichael. “Ask yourself if there is some healthy preparation steps that you can take.”
So, start putting away some cash for an upcoming expensive dinner avoid to digging into your savings and triple-check that your partner actually packed their underwear. Think of different ways to harness your nervous anticipatory energy, so instead of worrying about the future, you can enjoy it when it comes.
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