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Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D.
Image by Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D.
November 5, 2021
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When it comes to anxiousness, the goal is usually getting rid of it for good. This makes sense, as those uncomfortable emotions can feel pretty stifling at times. But according to licensed clinical psychologist Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., we should change the narrative: We shouldn't "get rid" of nervous energy—we should redirect it. "There's a healthy level of [anxiousness] that can be protective. We just need to learn how to use it properly," she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast

Carmichael has a treasure trove of actionable techniques to leverage those feelings in her book Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety (well, nine, to be exact), and we've highlighted a few for you below. Go ahead and bookmark these practices, and use them whenever you feel that sense of stress arise: 

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The worry-time technique

Anxiousness and uncertainty go together like peas and carrots. So when people think about the future (which is most times uncertain), those stressful feelings aren't too far behind. "The ability to think ahead about the future is a wonderful thing to be able to do, but sometimes we can almost get too good at it," says Carmichael, to the point where your mind can become overwhelmed with unanswerable questions. 

Although, you shouldn't just scold yourself for not being in the present and tell yourself not to worry. "It's actually hard for your brain to let go of that stuff because it knows it's out there unaddressed," Carmichael explains. Your brain naturally sends you mental pings when tasks are left unfinished, so squashing those feelings down isn't the answer. 

Rather, start what Carmichael calls a "worry-time" practice, where you schedule some time later in the day to dedicate your full attention to the issue. Carmichael recommends literally creating a calendar event for your worries: "For some people, it recurs every day for 10 minutes, for some people it's an hour, once a week, whatever [works] best," she explains. "And then when those feelings pop up, you just deposit them into the event details, and you give them their undivided attention when the time arrives." 

This practice frees your brain and allows you to let go of those feelings in the moment because you know you'll address them later on in the day. Plus, says Carmichael, you're actually going to be more productive at solving those issues when you give them your full attention rather than attempting to think about them while juggling other tasks.

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Mind-mapping is another practice that requires physically noting your worries, and Carmichael says it's especially helpful when you don't know exactly what you're feeling heightened emotions about. Sometimes you just feel mentally off, and you can't really pinpoint the exact reasons. 

For example, let's say you're feeling stressed about work. You don't know why, exactly, but you notice negative feelings arise when you think about your job. "Let's do a mind map," Carmichael says. On the middle of a piece of paper, write the word "work." Draw a circle around it with a few spokes protruding from it. "Write the first words that come to mind when you think of work," Carmichael advises. 

The words might not even make sense to you at first: "[You] might say, 'Well, I think of money, I think of desire to fit in. I think of a little fear," she poses. "Draw some spokes out from those and see what they connect to." For example, you might connect the money bubble with fear, which can shed light on your feelings about financial safety.

"We start literally getting a map and seeing that metacognition," says Carmichael. Then you can start to visually understand what you're feeling and (literally) draw connections to your experiences.


Thought replacements

Finally, Carmichael touts a "thought replacement" exercise. Let's circle back to the job stress example: If you start to notice that your sense of anxiousness stems from financial safety, try to replace those negative thoughts with a different, 100% accurate statement moving forward.

"Regardless of my job status, I know I can take care of myself and I can count on me," Carmichael gives as an example. "Repeat that a few times." She notes that this practice can address the heart of your stress and allow your mind to escape the tunnel vision and notice what's logical. 

Note: Thought replacements are not the same as affirmations. Carmichael says affirmations can be quite aspirational, while thought replacements are 100% accurate. "Before you settle on a thought replacement, have a deliberate hole-poking session where you try to say, 'Is there any scenario where this wouldn't be true? or 'How can I really refine this?' so it feels like an airtight thought replacement," she adds. "And then you use that airtight thought replacement when you start getting certain negative, maladaptive thoughts." 

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The takeaway.

Overall, translating anxious feelings into physical words or actions can help you take better control of them—which can ultimately help you use the nervous energy for good. Try a couple of these techniques for a few weeks and notice how you feel. Chances are you'll feel the weight of the anxiousness subside.

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