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Anxiety Reappraisal During COVID-19

By Bonnie Gonzalez | March 26, 2020 | High School, The Science of Learning

Tips for teens:

So, you are stuck at home with EVERYONE in your family. Covid 19 has sent your dad home from work, your older sister home from college, and your brother home from his part time job, and you are now in the company of everyone in your family, ALL. DAY. LONG. 

You say to yourself, “I am so excited to have everyone home, it is going to be a blast to work around all of the mess and confusion!”

Or, maybe you think, “I am so excited to have my sister back in my room again for the next 5 months!”

I am guessing that you may not be thinking or saying either of those statements. But, if you want to lower your anxiety about the situation you should be.  Yes, you heard me correctly, turning anxiety into excitement can help reduce your stress. We psychologists call this cognitive technique anxiety reappraisal. 

Here is the reasoning behind this strange but true phenomenon. Anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both situations the heart beats faster, adrenaline is released, and the body prepares for action – sometimes called the fight or flight response.  In other words, both emotions increase our arousal response. The only difference is that excitement is a positive response and anxiety is a negative one. Excitement focuses our attention on positive things, and anxiety, well . . . you know . . . it takes us on the road to panic, failure, and catastrophizing the situation.

Now, it might sound naive to simply reframe an event or situation (especially a serious one) as exciting, rather than stressful or anxiety producing, but recent research suggests that it works. Allison Brooks, a professor at Harvard, did some interesting research with some of her students on anxiety reappraisal. Participants were asked to sing the song “Don’t Stop Believin’” in front of a large crowd. Before the performance the students were told to say, “I am excited,” or “I am nervous,” or nothing before they began to sing. The excited participants not only reported feeling more excited, but they also sang better than the other groups. The same results happened when students were given a speech to perform and a math test. The excited participants outperformed those who told themselves to calm down. 

Don’t believe this works? Here are a few ways that you can experiment with this during your home quarantine time:

Tell yourself it really will be exciting to have your family altogether in one place.

Think of a task you must do that causes you great anxiety and talk to yourself about its benefits prior to doing it.

Each night before going to bed, list all the things you are looking forward to the following day.

And, if all else fails, tell yourself that it really will be exciting when you can get out among people again without social distancing!

I’m Bonnie Gonzalez, a licensed counselor and teacher for Aim Academy. Please let me know how your experiment with anxiety reappraisal works for you. I’m also happy to field any further questions you might have about mental health issues during these challenging times.

Bonnie Gonzalez has 36 years of experience as a licensed counselor and is passionate about helping families apply the latest research in their home schools. She teaches Introduction to Psychology, Intro to Sociology, and a series of mini-courses related to a positive psychology. See her classes here.