“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” ~ Epictetus
I speak, frequently, in public. While theatrics and staged productions are not my thing, I have long been drawn to oratory and the art of verbal communication. However, this does not mean I am always comfortable being in front of a microphone or an audience. Like most others, I experience my own version of anxiety before I speak or present.
When you think about an upcoming performance or situation do butterflies seem to fly wildly in your stomach? The butterflies, sweaty palms, and pounding heartbeat are all physical signs of your increasing anxiety or anticipation of what is about to happen or could happen. Note: could happen. How you interpret or give meaning to these physical signs could severely affect the performance that follows them.
When you notice these physical signs and interpret them as positive or helpful to your preparation and readiness to perform, they can be stimulating yet reassuring. Such an interpretation calmly excites you and increases your desire to get going and engage the situation. Your performance will likely be smooth, fun, and skilled.
When you interpret the physical signs of anxiety as negative or confirming your fear, they will escalate and possibly interfere with skills, choices, and focus. Your fear of outcomes, mistakes, and personal embarrassment could increase as your confidence wanes. Your performance will likely be choppy, difficult, and frustrating.
I have experienced both sides of this coin, many times.
If performance anxiety or even unsettling feelings interfere with your decision-making processes, here are three techniques to consider for managing anxiety:
- A powerful yet simple concept to reduce anxiety is to practice keeping your word. Many times, we promise ourselves something and then we don’t do it, which makes us feel worse. We get caught up in a cycle of rationalizing and feeling stuck. You can change this but only by promising yourself what you’re sure you will do. It is better to set and achieve a small goal than to bite off more than you can chew – and choke.
- Some worries have to be faced head-on, and worrying about them the right way can help eliminate secondary, unnecessary worrying. When you feel your worries are out of control, try these four steps: a) Worry through all the issues within a 10-20 minute time limit; b) Do anything that must be done at the present moment. Set a time when it’ll be necessary to think about the worry again; c) Write that time on a calendar and; d) Whenever the thought pops up again say, “Stop! I’ve already worried” and promptly redirect your thoughts to another activity – any activity.
- Consume mood foods. Often, anxiety prompts us to revisit our diet: to make sure we’re not drinking too much caffeine, not bingeing on too much sugar, etc. There are foods that enhance one’s mood and they include: nuts, dark green leafies, citrus, berries, and dark orange vegetables. Introducing these into your diet may be helpful.
Or you can resort to what works well for me and just breathe, deeply and repeatedly. It’s amazing how some of the most simple techniques yield the greatest benefit.
Anxiety is the normal anticipation of an event or performance where you want to succeed. How you interpret the signs of anxiety however, may affect the performance more than the original anxiety ever could have. Think about anxiety as a sign of normal preparation to succeed and a good sign of what is to come. You could then have your butterflies flying in perfect formation, marking your way to a confident and enjoyable experience.