Dealing With Anxiety By Boosting Confidence

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by Dr. Michelle Cleere, Premiere Thought Doctor

Every time I give a presentation I have a physical manifestation of nerves: butterflies in my stomach, my heart rate goes up and my brain starts thinking all kinds of stuff. If I add to those thoughts, if I make them bigger, the thoughts grow and my nerves become full blown anxiety.

Anxiety is something everyone deals with at some level. There are three important things to understand about anxiety:

1. Nerves which we often interpreted as anxiety don’t have to be interpreted as anxiety.
2. Nerves don’t have to be negative and are the body’s way of preparing for something important.
3. Nerves will always exist.

What’s important to know about anxiety is, where it comes from, its effects and what to do about it.


Defining anxiety

Anxiety is a negative emotional state characterized by apprehension, worry and nervousness. Anxiety appears cognitively through worry and apprehension and it appears somatically through physiological changes in your body; increased heart rate, increased respiration, etc.


Anxiety-state versus trait

State anxiety is a temporary, changing emotional state of subjective, consciously perceived feelings of tension and apprehension. State anxiety is relative to the event and the elements contained within an event. Trait anxiety is a behavioral disposition where a person perceives the circumstances to be threatening that are objectively not threatening and then responds with disproportionate state anxiety.

There is a direct correlation between state and trait anxiety. Research has shown that those who score high on trait anxiety also experience more state anxiety; although there are exceptions. A highly trait anxious person might be experienced in a particular situation and for that reason not perceive it as a threat or experience the corresponding state anxious symptoms. Similarly, high trait anxious person can learn coping skills to reduce the state anxiety they feel as will be talked about later in this article.
The affect of anxiety on giving a presentation

There are many theories on anxiety. The theory explained here is called catastrophe theory. Catastrophe theory states that with low worry, increases in arousal and somatic anxiety are related to performance in an inverted U way. With a lot of worry the increases in arousal improve performance to a person’s optimal zone. If arousal continues beyond the zone there is a rapid and dramatic decline in performance. Once an person’s performance has rapidly declined due to increased arousal levels, they would need to greatly decrease their physiological arousal before being able to regain previous performance levels.


Key considerations of anxiety for presenters

There are five key considerations to think about when it comes to anxiety:

1) Identify your optimal arousal related emotions. Think of arousal as an emotional temperature and arousal regulation skills as a thermostat. Your goal is to find your optimal emotional temperature (under what conditions do you perform optimally) and then learn how to regulate your thermostat. Regulating your thermostat is done by either psyching up or psyching down.

2) Recognize how your personal and situational factors interact. It’s important to understand the interaction of personal factors (self-esteem, state and trait anxiety) and situational factors (event importance and uncertainty) to get the best predictor of arousal, state anxiety and performance.
3) Recognize your signs of arousal and state anxiety. You can better understand your anxiety level by becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of increased stress and anxiety. Here’s are some of them:

• Cold, clammy hands
• Frequent urination
• Profuse sweating
• Negative self talk
• Increased muscle tension
• Butterflies
• Feeling ill
• Headache
• Cotton mouth
• Difficulty sleeping
• Inability to concentrate