March 22, 2014

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“Calm down!” It’s ironic how these two words so often elicit an opposite and emotional reaction! Our society is fraught with anxiety, relying on medication and meditation as common antidotes. As a facilitator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, I am a passionate proponent of conquering anxiety through awareness and breath. The Case Against Staying Calm by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D, recently published in Psychology Today, caught my attention. In her article, Drexler examines the possibility that when anxiety is embraced and reframed as excitement, negative emotions can actually be transformed into positive emotions.

A recent study by Harvard Medical School found that staying calm is not necessarily desirable. In their study of over 400 participants, researchers found that when faced with a challenging or difficult situation, people are better able to perform if they tell themselves to “get excited,” rather than to “calm down.” This reality is likely the result of our bodies’ propensity to excrete cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress. Instead of fighting these inevitable physical responses, perhaps we should embrace and merely “redefine” them. “I am not stressed over this test; I am excited to take it and nail it!” “ I am not nervous about my work presentation; I am excited for the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience.” “I am not anxious to confront my child about the party Saturday night; I am excited for the opportunity to engage in an informative conversation about the ramifications of underage drinking.”

While this research study is new to me, I realize that I have often coached clients to go into a test or job interview with an exciting “game day” mindset. However, I thoroughly believe that for excitement to be manageable and positive, it must be accompanied by calm confidence, accessed through mindfulness. On the cusp of your next challenge, when your heart starts pumping quickly and your hands feel sweaty, take a slow calm breath, recognize and embrace your “excitement,” before proceeding confidently in the direction of your desired outcome.
Live well/ Be well

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