Stress. You know the feeling. Sometimes it’s a good feeling, and sometimes it’s the opposite.
It’s a good feeling when things go your way. You’re running toward the finish line, well ahead of the field, and you feel unstoppable.
This is eustress. That sublime feeling when stress is an ally, when it helps you experience peak performance, and when it puts you in the zone.
Unfortunately, this stress state is rare. What’s more common is distress. You may know this state even better. It might even show up as a constant companion.
Distress occurs when things are moving too fast and feel out of your control. Your projects are falling apart at the seams. You can’t meet deadlines. You disappoint your boss yet again. You can’t seem to win the game, close the deal, or come out ahead.
Counter distress with destress measures.
Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon called stress. In particular, how it affects your performance when you need to be at your best.
Performance Anxiety: What It Is, And What to Do About It
What happens when you need to do or say something well outside your comfort zone? Perhaps you need to give a speech to a large audience or ace an interview to get a job you desperately need.
When you need to perform, when the stakes are high and you feel vulnerable, then you may experience a sweaty forehead, a dry mouth, or a tight throat. Additionally, you may find that you can’t control your racing pulse or slow your rapid breathing. And, perhaps, much to your distress, you may also discover that your voice quavers when you speak, your knees quiver when you step forward, and your hands tremble when you gesture.
Here are 4 things you can do to nip performance anxiety before it shows up.
- Eat the right foods: On the day you need to perform, be meticulous with your diet. Avoid coffee and sugar as these will overstimulate you. Eat a good meal a few hours before your performance so that you have sufficient blood sugar to fuel your brain. Consume something light, anything that won’t make you feel bloated or sleepy. Some suggestions: yogurt, burrito, or whole-grain pasta.
- Switch the spotlight: Don’t think about yourself, but focus on your audience. Imagine that they are fascinated in what you have to say, admire you, and want you to win. (Whether they do or not is something that you can only guess—but what’s important is that you imagine your audience in a positive light—as friendly, engaged, compassionate.)
- Visualize positive things: Just before the big event, before you step on stage or go into the office for the interview, is the time you feel most vulnerable. It’s the moment when your imagination can take a negative turn. But instead of anticipating worse case scenarios, focus on the opposite. Reflect on how well you’ll do; how you’ll entertain and inform the audience or impress the interviewer. Review all the things that have gone well. Think about how much you’ve practiced and how well you know the material. Appreciate how sharply you’re dressed for the occasion. Recall past successes. Visualize your goal in the bag. A done deal.
- Observe your breath: Control your central nervous system with your breathing. A natural response when you feel scared, nervous, or anxious is to either hold your breath or breathe shallowly. Sometimes, too, you may gasp for air, as if you’ve just run up a flight of stairs. You can reverse how you feel. Breathe in just the opposite way. Instead of breathing shallowly, breathe deeply. Instead of breathing quickly, breathe slowly. Breathe deep and slow. Also, notice your breath. Be aware of the sensation of your nostrils flaring as your breath in and the air filling up your lungs, moving your diaphragm, and pulling in your belly. Then notice your diaphragm and your belly puffing up as you exhale.
In conclusion, the best way to deal with performance anxiety is to be proactive about it. Instead of trying to avoid it, anticipate it and take steps to prevent your emotions from escalating and your mind from racing.
Related Stress Articles of Interest:
How To Prepare For a Special Occasion Without the Stress
7 Proven Ideas for Stress Management You Need to Know