"Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective," study author Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, of Harvard Business School, said.
"When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well."
Several experiments conducted at Harvard University with college students and members of the local community showed that simple statements about excitement could improve performance during activities that triggered anxiety.
Since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety, Brooks said.
"When you feel anxious, you're ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats," she said. "In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don't believe it at first, saying 'I'm excited' out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement."
The study was published online in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.