An Unexpected Way to Deal with Performance Anxiety

Activities such as exams or public speaking can turn the toughest into a sweaty, shaky human shaped jelly in a skin suit. The obvious response to performance anxiety is to try to relax, but it might not be the most effective, according to new research.

The problem with naming that racey heart, butterflies-in-the-belly, anxious feeling as ‘feeling anxious’, is that it tends to trigger thoughts of all the things that could go badly. Getting excited on the other hand brings on a more positive emotional state.

Research conducted at Harvard University showed that relabelling ‘anxiety’ as ‘excitement’ improved performance during anxiety-inducing activities.

What They Did & What They Found

Study 1: Public Speaking

Participants were required to prepare a public speech about why they would be good work partners. Before they delivered the speech, participants were asked to say, ‘I am excited,’ or ‘I am calm.’

According to independent evaluators, those who said they were excited gave speeches that were more persuasive, competent and relaxed than those who said they were calm.

Study 2: Maths Test

Participants were divided into three groups. One group were instructed, ‘try to get excited’; the second, ‘try to remain calm’; and the third, nothing. Each participant was then given a difficult maths test.

Participants in the excited group performed 8% better on average than participants in the other two groups.

Still not convinced? That’s alright – because there was a third study …

Study 3: Karaoke

Participants were randomly assigned to say they were anxious, excited, calm, angry or sad before blasting out a tune on karaoke. A control group did not have to make any statement.

Participants in the excited group scored 80% on average. Those in the calm, angry or sad groups scored on average 69%. Those who said they were anxious scored 53%.

Here’s how it works.

Reinterpreting feelings is extremely powerful. Anxiety and excitement are similar in many ways. Both are characterised by high arousal and other physiological experiences – sweating, butterflies, racey heart.

Labelling a feeling as ‘anxiety’ sets up thoughts of everything that could go wrong. Relabelling the feeling as ‘excited’ brings to mind more positive, productive thoughts of what might be.

As explained by researcher Alison Wood, PhD of Harvard Business School, ‘When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats. In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying ‘I’m excited’ out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement.’

[irp posts=”1359″ name=”The Proven Way to Feel Less Anxious, More Confident & More Empowered in Two Minutes”]

6 Comments

Kim

This is so interesting… my 8 year old struggled with anxiety and has low processing speed index scores meaning he struggles in testing situations. This year he’s become involved in performing and he loves being on stage, he talks about how he gets nervous beforehand but loves it once he’s up there… never thought of using this to help him in testing situations as he talks about being nervous before those but I’ll definitely give that a try now!

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mh support network

Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening.

I appreciate you spending some time and effort to
put this article together. I once again find myself spending a lot
of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

Reply
Elizabeth

I never knew the feeling of anxiety. I have heard the word several times but one day at age 28, when I went to the Dr he asked me if what I was feeling was anxiety. And I just did not know what anxiety felt like. He had to explained me several times what it felt like. My mother was extremely busy managing a business and raising all by herself seven children since my father abandoned her. She was a wonderful mother but never talked about it to me. I never had a chance to think, or be aware of my feelings when growing up. Now at age 48. I am aware of anxiety but thanks goodness I do not suffer from it that much. It is good that you talk to your kids about it.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

That must have been a frightening experience having the feelings of anxiety and not knowing where they are coming from. Thankfully we are learning more and more about it. Hopefully this means our kids will be more empowered from the information we have access to now.

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Debi

OhMYgoodness! I have spent the last 90 minutes on your website…. having a daughter with anxiety, I am always trying to “fix” it. This one article has changed the way I talk to her, starting tomorrow. It occurred to me while reading this, that I use the word ANXIETY way too frequently. To the point she says “its NOT anxiety, Mom!!”. uggggh…. just labeling her and saying the word so often is not helping!! Anyway, your articles speak to the deepest places of my heart ache. I feel so hopeful now that I have found your site. Thank you for sharing your knowledge…. its like a life preserver in the ocean!!!

Reply
heysigmund

Your’re welcome! I’m so pleased the information has helped you and I’m so pleased you’ve found Hey Sigmund. I love how you’ve made the connections so quickly. One of the things that’s so hard about being a is having to guess whether we’re doing the right thing or whether we should try something else. And then we’ll second guess ourselves as to whether we guessed right or wrong. Geez! It’s so normal to jump into wanting to ‘fix’ our kids – anything to stop them hurting. You’re not alone there! I’m so pleased you have the information now. I can see that you’re doing pretty great things with it already.

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If we want our kids and teens to take our guidance into brave behaviour, they have to know that we see what they’re worried about - that we truly get it - and that we still know they can do this and that they’ll cope with whatever happens, because they will.

The brain and body respond the same to physical threats (being chased by a bear) as it does to psychological threats (hard things, new things, brave things). So just because the brain has registered a threat, doesn’t mean it is a threat.

Kids need to know that anxiety has nothing to do with strength, courage, character, and it is absolutely not a sign that they can’t cope. It’s a sign that they are about to something brave, important and meaningful – and that can be hard sometimes. Ask, ‘Is this a time to be safe (sometimes it will be), or is this a time to be brave?’♥️
The key to moving kids trough anxiety is helping them know when to retreat into safety, and when to move forward into brave.♥️
When their world feels wobbly, children will look to their closest adults for signs of safety. Our nonverbals will speak the loudest. We’ve been communicating in nonverbals long before words. With every expression, movement, with our posture, our voice, our tone, we’re communicating to them whether we believe they are brave enough and safe enough. 

Our capacity to self regulate is key. If you can breathe and lower your own anxiety, they will pick this up. Our nervous systems are talking to each other every minute of every day.  So often, the move towards brave doesn’t start with them. It starts with us. 

If you can hold a calm steady presence it will make it easier for their bodies and brains to pick up on that calm. If they’ve been feeling anxious retreating from something for a while, it will take a while them to trust that they can cope, and that’s okay. The move towards brave doesn’t have to happen quickly. It’s the direction that matters. 

Breathe, validate, and invite them into brave: ‘I know this feels big. What can you do that would feel brave right now?’ And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️

#parenting #anxietyinkids #mindfulparenting #parents #raisingkids #heywarrior
Few things will stoke anxiety more in an anxious child than unpredictability. One of the ways they might relieve their anxiety is through control. (We can all fall into controlling behaviour when we’re anxious.) This isn’t done to be insensitive or ‘bossy’, even though it might come out that way. It’s done because of their great and very understandable need for predictability and safety.

Anxious kids don’t need to control everything in order to feel safe but they do need someone to take the lead and you’re perfect for the job. They need to understand that they can trust you to keep them safe. To show them, be predictable and clear with boundaries and have confidence in protecting those boundaries. Predictibility will increase their sense of safety and will help to minimise the likelihood of an anxious response.

Without limits kids have nothing to guide their behaviour. The options become vast and overwhelming. They need to feel like you’ve got them, that you’ve set a safety zone and that within that, they’re fine. Of course they’ll push up against the edges and sometimes they’ll move well outside them – that’s all part of growing up and stretching their wings but even then, the boundaries will offer some sort of necessary guidance. In time, children without limits wil become controlling and demanding – and that just doesn’t end well for anyone.

When they are pushing against your boundaries, let those boundaries be gentle, but firm. Invite their opinions and give space for them to disagree:
‘I want to understand [why this doesn’t feel right for you] [what you need] [how this can work for both of is].’

But let the final decision be yours with statements of validation:
‘I know this is annoying for you.’

Plus confidence:
‘This is what’s happening and I know [you can do this] [this is how it has to be].♥️
Even the spiciest behaviour will have a valid need behind it. If we can respond to the need behind the behaviour, the behaviour will ease. When this happens, they will be more open to our guidance and influence: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re a great kid, and I know you know that wasn’t okay. How can you put things right?’

Of course, it’s not always easy to know what the need it. They won’t always know what the need is. (Neither do we when we’re losing our (thinking) minds.)

If you aren’t sure what the need is, try to approach this with a curious mind. Watch, wonder, and don’t forget to breathe. Of you think they’re open to it, ask, ‘Can you help me understand what’s happening for you? I really want to understand.’ Soft eyes, a curious mind, and breathe.♥️

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