But the word “anxiety” is one that people tend to throw around casually—and, sometimes, problematically. For some, anxiety is a debilitating condition that keeps them in “fight or flight” response and affects their ability to function. For others, anxiety is an edgy sensation that can be harnessed to improve performance, says Washington, D.C.-based licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, author of Hack Your Anxiety.
If anxiety is unrelenting and chronically interfering with daily life, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or mental health profession. But moderate anxiety can be useful, Clark says. “It’s always trying to tell us something that we care about. Alert us to things that we might not be noticing or tending to,” she says. Try these four ways to harness that anxious feeling and make it work for you.
When your anxiety is uncomfortable, explore what’s making you feel that way, Clark says. Explore the fear or nervousness and work on figuring out what’s at the heart of it. What is making you anxious? Why do you feel this way? Once you can name the feeling specifically, you can begin to address it and change your thinking about it, she says.
For example, if you’re doing a presentation to a new prospect and your anxiety about it is getting the better of you, think about why you’re feeling that way. It may be because you’re unsure of your presentation skills and need more practice. It could be because you really need this sale and you’re worried that you might not be successful. Each are valid reasons for feeling anxious, but have different remedies, she says. Let the anxiety tell you what you need to address for better performance.
Once you are clear on the reason for your feelings, you can begin to think about them in different ways—also called reframing–to your advantage. Anxiety, when it’s not overwhelming, can sharpen your focus and improve performance, Clark says.
So, instead of being fearful of the challenge you’re facing, work on focusing on the opportunity within it. Think about the positive aspects of being excited about the presentation and the potential benefit it holds. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Individual Differences found that people who acknowledged their anxiety were better able to use it to motivate them.
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