Whether it’s a job interview, a first date, or a board meeting, knowing how to manage anxiety will help you be at your best. Anxiety, like it or not, is almost always a part of any situation we care deeply about, and too much of it can get in the way. If you want to be at the top of your game, and use your anxiety effectively, you need a game plan.
Here are 4 quick tips to manage your anxiety so it doesn’t manage you.
- Identify your excitement, rather than your fear. In her research at Harvard Business School, Alison Wood Brooks has found reappraising anxiety as excitement is linked to higher performance than trying to calm down. Embracing your anxiety allows you not to fight your experience, a phenomena she calls arousal congruency. The idea is to work with, rather than against, your natural arousal state to harness peak performance. So when you are next feeling the jitters heading into that meeting, instead of telling yourself to ‘calm down,’ try naming your experience as excitement, or simply tell yourself to ‘get excited.’ It doesn’t have to be complicated – simply shifting your thinking can change your experience.
- Adopt a powerful posture. Amy Cuddy’s research at Harvard Business School on body language has suggested powerful poses yield feelings of power and confidence. Walking into a high stakes situation, strike a power pose for 30 seconds before hand, and you just might be surprised how effective it can be. “Fake it till you become it” is her motto.
- Slow and deepen your breathing. If you feel light headed, or dizzy, your breath may be the problem. Remember that breathing is something you can deliberately control, and change, and too much oxygen is not necessarily a good thing when you are anxious and trying to think. When you slow down and deepen your breathing you send powerful signals to your brain that it is ok to relax. Try this simple breathing exercise: Rest your tongue on the back of your top teeth, breathe in through your nose to the count of 5 expanding your belly, hold your breath for 7 counts, and exhale through your mouth for 7 counts. The idea here is to slow your breath by lengthening your inhales and exhales, with an emphasis on exhaling.
- Think about others, not yourself. As much as you are worried about the outcome of your performance, remember your job is to share information, deliver a service, or connect with others. If you are worried about your audience, remember they are likely worried about themselves. So as you approach the podium, the boardroom, or the restaurant, remember to focus on doing your job, rather than how you are doing. Distract yourself with the content of your message (rather than the process) and your mind will follow your focus.
Thinking about what is happening, how you are doing, and what people are thinking about you are some of the best ways to escalate your anxiety to a non-helpful state. Instead aim to focus on your excitement, your physical confidence, and the content of your task to maximize your performance. The trick is to use these strategies so that you can stop thinking about it. The goal: think about doing your job and you will do it as well as you can.
Managing performance anxiety can take patience and practice. If you are looking for more support in using your anxiety to your advantage, check out my anxiety blog, download my free ebook, or sign up for my newsletter.