Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives but, for some, it can significantly affect their performance. If you’re keen not to let anxiety get the better of you, behavioural expert Judi James is on hand with advice.
According to the charity ‘Mind’, feelings of anxiety and fear are a
natural ‘fight or flight’ reflex. They’re an in-built mechanism that can
act as a way of protecting the body against stress or danger.
“Without anxiety in your DNA, you wouldn’t be here today, as it
formed part of the survival response that allowed your ancestors to
out-run or out-fight their predators for many centuries,” explains Judi
The good news is that today we are less likely to need a constant physical reaction to life-or-death danger. The bad news is that we still experience the same amount of fear over non-threatening circumstances, creating what can be crippling levels of anxiety and worry.
Even people who seem confident and self-assured experience anxiety and it’s not uncommon for top sports people, pop stars or actors to get hit by a bout of anxiety just before a major race, concert or stage performance.
“Although these high levels of fear can knock an Olympic athlete off form, they can also affect us in more everyday circumstances, like social events, making a wedding speech or even speaking up at a business meeting,” explains Judi.
Anxiety has an effect on the body and the mind, causing a range of common symptoms. ‘Mind’ says that some of the physical symptoms caused by anxiety include:
- headaches, caused by increased muscular tension
- feeling light-headed or faint, caused by breathing rapidly
- a pounding heart, caused by rising blood pressure
- nausea or sickness, caused by changes to the blood supply which affect your digestive system
- butterfly feelings in your stomach or the need to rush to the toilet, caused by anxiety affecting your nervous system.
There are psychological effects of anxiety too, including being on edge, fearful, irritable, unable to concentrate and having a heightened sense of alertness. You may feel in need of seeking reassurance from others or find yourself feeling weepy.
Anxiety can strike in many areas of life, with common types of anxiety caused by the following:
- Work – feeling stressed and anxious about work, worrying about employment prospects, having to attend an important work meeting or presenting at a conference.
- Social – feeling anxious about having to give a speech at a wedding, attend a social event where you don’t know anyone or take part in an activity you don’t like or have never done before.
- Life – worry and fear about life issues, such as money, housing, health, relationships or children.
According to ‘Mind’, anxiety can be caused by a previous bad experience and worries about the same thing happening again, or by worrying about the future, ‘what might be’ and a fear that you won’t be in control.
“We all become anxious under pressure but one person may succumb more easily than another, because of a mixture of personality, current circumstances and childhood experience,” explained a spokesperson for ‘Mind’.
If you experience anxiety, should you, as those famous words say, just ‘keep calm and carry on?’
This might be great advice in the normal world but a state of complete calm can be counter-productive in some anxiety-fuelled situations, such as when you’re performing at work, in social situations or competing in sports, says Judi.
“That anxiety-fuelled adrenalin burst can make the vital difference between coming first or coming nowhere. All those butterflies in your stomach might be feeling like brewing panic but, if you can get them flying in formation, they will power you up for the win.”
If you need a helping hand dealing with performance anxiety, here are five top tips from Judi.
- Be your own coach – Stop listening to that voice inside your head with those ‘what if?’ scenarios. Talk yourself up with positive inner dialogues and kick the negatives ones out.
- Create a leader voice – Think of someone in your life who could motivate you and use their voice in your head to tell you to “get out there and go for it”.
- Visualise success – Give yourself a dress rehearsal in your mind. See yourself doing well and sailing through the situation with ease.
- Develop a ritual for calm – Stop, relax, breathe deeply and think yourself calm. Tell yourself: “I feel calm, confident and in control”.
- Pace about – Sitting still can increase pre-performance jitters, so try pacing around instead. It’s a good warm-up for your body.
Finally, if you do find your mind going dry and your words seizing up when you’re doing a speech or performing, ignore the sense of panic, pause and focus on nothing, advises Judi. By not panicking, you give yourself, and your mind, time to retrieve your intended words and carry on.
Mind – www.mind.org.uk
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