Are Anxiety and Excitement the Same Thing?

Anxiety and excitement are often seen as opposites. After all, one is positive, and one is negative. But how different are they really?

When we’re anxious, we feel nervous, tense and restless. We may start sweating, breathing rapidly and having trouble concentrating. Our heart rate also increases. And this is similar to how we are when excited. 

So What’s the Difference?

According to Jim JP Collins, host of The Anxiety Podcast, “The difference is in our interpretation.” In other words, if we recognise these feelings as positive, we’ll feel excited. If we see them as negative, we’ll feel anxious. And this has been proven by research too.

Excitement Helps Us Perform Better

To test all this out, Harvard Business School’s Alison Wood Brooks told participants to say either “I am anxious”, “I am excited” or nothing before singing “Don’t Stop Believin” in front of their group in an impromptu karaoke session.

Not only were the “excited” participants more excited, they also sang better according to a computerised measurement of volume and pitch. And similar results were found when they were asked to deliver a 2-minute speech on camera and complete a math test.

And the most interesting thing? All the participants were equally as anxious the whole way through- even the excited ones. Simply saying they were excited didn’t even change their heart rate. The difference came only in how they perceived their experience- either as exciting or stressful.

Thinking Positively Helps

But this is not the only study to have shown the power of interpretation. Back in 2010, researchers found that when people were told that feeling anxious would help them do better on a maths test, they performed better. The people here didn’t even have to “feel” excited. They were simply told to think of their anxiety as a helpful factor, rather than a hindrance.

To conclude, anxiety and excitement produce many of the same neurological responses. And so, switching between the two can just be a matter of thinking positively or negatively.

Annie Lennon

Writer with an insatiable curiosity for people, facts and places. Currently interested in learning more about making our way towards a blue economy.