If your heart races at the thought of speaking in front of a crowd or taking a final test for a class, you might be suffering from some performance anxiety. Luckily, researchers are finding out ways to cope.
According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, people with performance anxiety who tried to calm themselves down before engaging in an activity they are anxious about, ended up doing worse than people who got themselves excited.
“People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective,” said study author Alison Wood Brooks, Ph.D. of Harvard Business School in a press release.
“When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.”
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
Several trials and experiments were conducted at Harvard University.
For one experiment, there were 188 total participants, and they were told to read the statements “try to get excited” or “try to remain calm.” Then they were given complex math problems to complete.
Results indicated that participants who read the “excited” statement performed better on average by 8 percent, and they felt more confident about their skills afterward.
Brooks said that the way in which people talk about their feelings can actually influence how they feel, which the study demonstrates.
Stacey Glaesmann, a life coach and author of “What About Me? A Simple Guide to Self-Care in the 21st Century,” said in an email that she used to be terrified to give speeches, but has been around the country speaking about postpartum depression and self-care since she overcame her fears.
“I have seen positive results in both myself and some clients just by shifting perspective from ‘I'm terrified,’ which focuses on the things that could go wrong, to ‘I'm excited,’ which predicts success,” Glaesmann said.