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  • Writer's pictureZach Lucas

Keep Excitement Exciting!

Would you prefer to feel anxious or excited? Excitement is generally viewed as a "positive" emotion, while anxiety a "negative" one. Excitement and anxiety, however, are related in some ways. Building a self-awareness of how these emotions work in the brain and body, therefore, can help you keep excitement from turning into anxiety.

How do we define excitement? Think of excitement as a higher state of emotional energy above happiness. Excitement means "ex" (out) "cite" (move) "ment" (agitate/stir up). Excitement causes us to feel "stirred up" about something we enjoy. And, in a similar fashion, anxiety influences us to feel "stirred up" about something we fear.

Emotions are experienced through a biological process in our brain and body, but we interpret them ("feel" them) according to our mental framework (personality type, state of mind, perception). Excitement feels good, so we naturally gravitate toward it--but, because it shares similar functions as anxiety, it can lead to dangers if we are not careful.


The Biology of Excitement & Anxiety

Neurotransmitters and hormones are "chemical messengers" in the body and brain. Neurotransmitters operate between the synapses of neurons (nerve cells). Hormones are released by glands into the bloodstream. These help us have motion (movement) and emotion (feelings).

Neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine activate in our nervous system when we feel excited or anxious. Likewise, the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline release from our adrenal glands when we are in these same states. These cause our brain and body to speed up our--excitement (moving toward the "good") and anxiety (moving away from the "bad").

Our nervous system also has a mechanism for accelerating the processes of our brain and body. Our autonomic nervous system (think "automatic") has two divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic mobilizes our energy for action, and the parasympathetic calms us.


The Danger of Excitement--Moving Too Quickly

Have you ever made a poor decision because your excitement acted faster than your logical mind could fully think through? This is when excitement isn't so exciting. When our body and brain are in "emergency mode" we can make regretful choices. This can either be over-accelerating toward the "good" (excitement) or away from the "bad" (anxiety).

Buyers remorse is an example of this. A person is looking forward to the possibility of a new car (excitement) and is afraid of losing the deal if they wait too long (anxiety). Both emotional states create a false sense of emergency. This dynamic holds true in athletes as well. This is why it is common to feel excitement and anxiety before a sporting event.

Another area to consider are panic attacks, a type of anxiety disorder. Panic happens when the brain reaches such an intolerably heightened state that it puts itself into "safe mode." It is a natural mechanism of the brain meant to preserve itself, but the person experiencing it feels like they are going to die.

Many times panic is triggered by actual or perceived fears (anxiety), but getting overly excited can trigger panic too. At first this may not make sense. Why would excitement, a pleasant emotional state, cause such an unpleasant experience? Again, the answer to this lies in the "elevated" state of the body and brain. Over-stimulation, whether for a desirable or undesirable reason, can put the body and brain into emergency mode.

Have you ever lost sleep, or the quality of sleep, the night before an exciting event the next day? When the sympathetic branch of our nervous system is consistently elevated, sleep loss to any degree (even longer-term insomnia) can be a result. This is why anxiety and excitement can affect sleep.

Having a job you enjoy can make your career journey a thriving experience. A subtle harmful dynamic, however, can be over-working due to an exciting job. The continual adrenaline release from exciting work feels good, so there is little reason to slow down for self-care.


Keep Excitement Exciting!

Questions to ask yourself: "Do I need to take time off from what I love doing?"; "When I feel excited, does it trigger anxiety as well?"; "Do I find it difficult to rest/slow down when involved in something exciting?"; "Am I making a poor choice in the midst of being excited?"

Giving yourself rest and practicing mindfulness-meditation are decelerating experiences that can keep excitement at a healthy pace. When in these relaxed states our brain increases the neurotransmitter levels of GABA and serotonin. These help us feel happy, yet content. In addition, relaxation activates the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system to calm us.

Excitement is a great emotion, and is necessary for mental and emotional health. Having jobs, hobbies, relationships, and recreation opportunities that help us feel excited are empowering. To keep excitement exciting, practice rest/slowing down can keep excitement at a level that is sustainable and enjoyable!


Zach Lucas is a Licensed Professional Counselor for the State of Oregon.

He also teaches dual credit high school Psychology classes in the Portland area.

Feel free to contact him at: zach@choosewellbeing.net

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The information provided is for self-exploration only and not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any condition or disease.  Always consult with a licensed professional who specializes in the area you are seeking to understand and treat.  

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