Nervous about Your Big Presentation? Don’t Try to Relax—Get Excited
“Keep calm and carry on”? When it comes to preperformance jitters, it turns out a better mantra might be “Get excited and try to fight it.”
For years, people who experienced sweating, a racing heartbeat, and nervous thoughts before being in the spotlight were advised to just take deep breaths and try to keep themselves calm. However, new research from the American Psychological Association suggests that getting excited before a presentation is more effective for decreasing anxiety than trying to relax.
“Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. 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,” said study author Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School. “When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.”
Excitement is also an easier emotion for your body to transition to at that point because it is more similar to anxiety—both are emotional states of high arousal. Rather than trying to temper your physiological responses and force a state of relaxation, it could be easier for you to transfer the negative stimulation of anxiety into the positive stimulation of excitement.
“It’s your mind that’s putting a different spin on what your body is going through,” Dr. Guy Winch, who was not involved in the study, told The Huffington Post.
Don’t think you have the mental strength to turn your nervousness into true enthusiasm? It turns out you don’t need to. The same research also shows that simply telling yourself “I’m excited” before a presentation, regardless of whether you’re truly excited, still reduced performance anxiety more than any attempts at relaxation.
“When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats,” study author Brooks said. “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. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying ‘I’m excited’ out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement.”
So the next time you’re dreading a big presentation, performance, or public speaking event, try to channel that anxiety into excitement by concentrating on the positive things that can happen and getting fired up for your time in the limelight. And if you can’t, then just try to fake it until you make it.