As you stand at the podium, looking out at the sea of faces in the audience, your heart is racing and your palms are sweaty. You feel a knot in your stomach and your mouth is dry. You're about to give a presentation on a topic you're passionate about, but all you can think about is how nervous you are.
You wonder if you'll be able to remember your lines, if you'll trip over your words, or if you'll freeze up completely - this is pre-performance anxiety.
It’s also known as stage fright, a common and normal experience for many people who engage in public speaking or other types of performance. It is natural to feel nervous or anxious before giving a presentation or performing in front of others, and these feelings are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating, and shaky hands.
While some level of anxiety can be beneficial in helping us to prepare and focus for a performance, excessive anxiety can interfere with our ability to perform at our best. It is important to find ways to manage pre-performance anxiety in order to optimize our performance and reduce any negative impact on our well-being.
Anxiety can have a negative impact on performance in a variety of ways. Some of the ways in which anxiety can negatively affect performance include:
Interfering with concentration and focus: Anxiety can make it difficult to concentrate and focus on the task at hand, which can make it hard to perform to the best of your ability.
Impairing memory and cognitive function: Anxiety can cause you to forget important information or make mistakes, as it can interfere with your memory and cognitive function.
Affecting physical performance: Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and shaky hands, which can negatively impact physical performance.
Decreasing motivation and confidence: Anxiety can lead to a lack of confidence and motivation, which can make it harder to perform to the best of your ability.
Increasing stress and burnout: Chronic anxiety can lead to increased stress and burnout, which can take a toll on your performance and well-being.
It is important to find ways to manage anxiety in order to minimize its negative impact on performance and optimize your ability to perform at your best.
There are a variety of strategies that can be helpful for managing pre-performance anxiety, including relaxation techniques, mental rehearsal, and cognitive-behavioral strategies such as anxiety reappraisal. By learning to recognize and manage pre-performance anxiety, we can turn this potentially negative experience into a positive and energizing one.
According to Harvard Business School professor Allison Wood Brooks, trying to suppress or "jam down" negative emotions such as anxiety can actually have negative consequences. This is because suppressing emotions requires a lot of mental effort and can lead to increased stress and anxiety, as well as decreased performance.
A better approach is to try to accept and acknowledge your anxious feelings, rather than trying to suppress or ignore them. This can involve acknowledging your feelings without judging or reacting to them, and allowing yourself to experience the emotions without trying to change them. This approach is known as emotional acceptance.
Emotional acceptance involves recognizing and accepting your emotions as they are, rather than trying to change or control them. Research has shown that this approach can be more effective for managing anxiety and other negative emotions, as it allows you to cope with your emotions in a healthy and adaptive way.
This can be especially helpful for managing pre-performance anxiety, as it can help you to focus on your performance rather than getting caught up in your anxious thoughts and feelings.
A good strategy to try out is anxiety reappraisal. This is a type of cognitive-behavioral strategy that involves changing the way you think about and interpret your anxious feelings. Instead of viewing anxiety as a negative or threatening emotion, you try to reframe it as a positive or beneficial emotion, such as excitement or anticipation.
One way to turn pre-performance anxiety into excitement is to focus on the potential rewards and benefits of the performance, rather than on the potential risks and negative consequences. This can help to shift your attention away from your anxious thoughts and feelings, and towards more positive and motivating thoughts and feelings.
Here are some examples of how anxiety reappraisal might be used in action:
A musician who gets nervous before a performance might try to reframe their anxiety as excitement about the opportunity to share their music with an audience.
A student who is anxious about a big exam might try to reframe their anxiety as anticipation about the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
An athlete who gets anxious before a big game might try to reframe their anxiety as motivation to perform at their best.
By reframing their anxious feelings as positive or beneficial emotions, these individuals are able to shift their focus away from their anxious thoughts and feelings and towards more positive and motivating thoughts and feelings. This can help to reduce the negative impact of anxiety on performance and increase their confidence and motivation to succeed.
Pre-performance anxiety is a common and normal experience for many people who engage in public speaking or other types of performance. While some level of anxiety can be beneficial in helping us to prepare and focus for a performance, excessive anxiety can interfere with our ability to perform at our best. It is important to find ways to manage pre-performance anxiety in order to optimize our performance and reduce any negative impact on our well-being.
One effective strategy for managing pre-performance anxiety is anxiety reappraisal, which involves changing the way you think about and interpret your anxious feelings. By reframing anxiety as a positive or beneficial emotion, such as excitement or anticipation, you can shift your focus away from your anxious thoughts and feelings and towards more positive and motivating thoughts and feelings.
Other strategies for managing pre-performance anxiety include relaxation techniques, mental rehearsal, and seeking social support from friends and loved ones. By learning to recognize and manage pre-performance anxiety, we can turn this potentially negative experience into a positive and energizing one.
Preparation is also important and can help with pre-performance anxiety. When it comes to presentations, having a presentation deck ready can come in handy as a complementary tool to engage your audience.
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