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How to Reframe Anxiety into Excitement

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we feel anxiety and fear. Our amygdala responds to potential threats to help keep us safe. Unfortunately, we can’t control how our amygdala reacts to external circumstances, it is our body’s natural response to keep us alive. The problem is, anxiety doesn’t always serve us, as New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult puts it, “anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”


What we do have complete control over is the meaning we attribute to those external circumstances. I admire Stoic philosophy for the principle that you cannot control what happens or what other people do, but you always have control over how you respond. It’s along the same lines of the concept that Viktor Frankl speaks about in his transformative book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl states that between stimulus and response there’s a space and it is in that space where you can realize your power and create the meaning you make of situations.


One way to leverage this empowering notion is reframing fear and anxiety into excitement. If anxiety is considered as the anticipation of what will happen next, then you can ultimately choose to be in fear of what will happen next or be excited about it. For some people, getting on a plane can invoke feelings of anxiety and fear, but for some it invokes feelings of excitement – it all comes down to is the meaning they attach to it.


Thought leader and author Simon Sinek tells a story of how sports journalists interview athletes and ask the same question – they ask if they were nervous. And every time the athletes respond that they were excited. It’s all about changing the narrative. As he describes, the athletes “have learned to interpret what they’re body was telling them not as nerves but as excitement.” The athletes do feel the initial anxiety provoking signals of fear including an increase in heart rate and clammy hands; however they choose to reframe those signals, and choose to feel excited.


Science shows that this actually works. A study was conducted by Harvard University in 2013 showing that subjects who said “I’m excited” out loud reappraised anxiety as excitement. Interestingly these researchers found that it’s easier for the brain to change anxiety to excitement than it is to change anxiety to calm. I hope this inspires you to rethink what you try to do in anxiety-provoking, stressful situations. They also found that saying “I’m excited” out loud doesn’t actually reduce anxiety, it just leveraged the anxiety and turned it into excitement. Even though the feelings of anxiety weren’t reduced, it absolutely improved the individual’s feelings and allowed them to perform better, resulting in a positive outcome instead of ruminating in negative feelings of fear.


So, if you’re ever starting to feel anxious or are dreading a social event, just change your state from anxious to excitement by saying it out loud and say it like you mean it.