What do you do when you’re nervous? Do you tell yourself to cut it out, to calm down? Do you try to breathe deep and slow your heart rate? It might not be as helpful as you think.
Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard, found that when people tried to calm down their nerves they didn’t perform as well as a group that was asked to turn their nervousness to excitement. Why is that?
Well, it’s because nervousness/anxiety is a high energy emotion. When people tried to “just calm down”, they were trying to diminish a whole host of excitatory hormones and chemical pathways that are frankly really good at staying on.
When people switched their anxiousness to excitement, however, they weren’t fighting their biochemistry, they were using it. They were able to ride the wave of the nervous emotions to turn it into positive fuel.
Energy Matching for High Energy Emotions
In my conversations with a client this past week, we talked about how to do just that. He was finding himself getting angry and frustrated, and we realized that the two current options (either stewing in that anger or just trying to calm down) weren’t all that fruitful. Instead, we realized that changing that anger to energy and fuel was the most positive outcome. In his example, he has an injury holding him back from doing his full workouts. Instead of being angry that he can’t participate in certain exercises, turn it to FUEL to double down on the exercises he can do. Make it ENERGY to commit extra hard to doing physical therapy exercises and treatments to help him heal. Let the anger propel him to forward motion.
Energy Matching for Low Energy Emotions
Let’s take the opposite end of the spectrum. Maybe you’re feeling sad, a little down, or mildly depressed. A lot of us would say “SMILE! GO OUT! GET A BIG GROUP TOGETHER!” in attempts to jumpstart us out of the sadness/low energy state.
According to these energy matching principles, these attempts aren’t productive. Instead, let’s go with the flow. Feeling sad or down? Take yourself for a walk. Meet up with a close friend for coffee or a movie. Turn this message of low energy to a *nourishing*, self-love filled activity that takes advantage of your biochemical state.
How to Use Energy Matching
Ready to put energy matching into practice? The first, most important, and hardest piece is to simply name your emotion and energy. If you’re not feeling great – ask yourself what emotion it is. Ask if you feel jittery or energy-filled or slow and tired. Name the core emotion to the best of your ability and then assess it’s energy level.
Then, ask yourself “What else has this energy frequency? What would help match it?” Remember that every negative emotion has a complement on the more positive side of the spectrum. Take anger, nervousness, anxiety and turn it into excitement and play. Take sadness, depression, and grief and turn it into calm, steady, self-care.
You’ll find that you’re better able to ride the wave of your emotions because you’re no longer fighting against them. Honor your emotions, move through them, and turn them to positive action. Behavior drives feelings.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.