New York, Dec 24 — What do you do when asked to address your client over a conference call or prepare for that crucial entrance exam? Try to remain calm or get excited?
Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not to stay calm, but to get excited and improve your performance during anxiety-inducing scenarios, according to a new study by the American Psychological Association (APA).
“When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. On the other hand, when they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well,” study author Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School was quoted as saying.
“People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety but that can be very difficult and ineffective,” Brooks added.
To prove this, researchers chose 140 participants who were told to prepare a persuasive public speech on why they would be good work partners. To infuse anxiety, they were told their speeches would be judged by a panel.
Participants who said “I am excited” gave longer speeches and were more persuasive, competent and relaxed than those who said they were calm, according to ratings by independent evaluators.
“The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel,” said Brooks.
Since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterised by high arousal, said the study, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety.
“When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats. In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited,” Brooks explained.
The findings of the study have been published in APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology.