Whether you've got a big interview next week, or you're headed to a social event where you don't know anyone, your mindset determines how successful you'll be in an anxiety-provoking situation.
Anxiety is uncomfortable. And when we feel anxious, our natural tendency is to run the other direction.
Our minds and our bodies will tell us we can't handle the discomfort. If you listen to the anxiety alarm bells that are trying to convince you that you're headed for disaster, you'll sabotage yourself.
At best, you'll allow your anxiety to interfere with your performance. At worst, you'll cancel your plans and dodge the situation that's the source of your angst.
Knowing how to face an anxiety-provoking situation like a champion can help you perform at your peak--even when there's a lot at stake. Here are some strategies that can help you deal with your anxiety:
Embrace the Anxiety
Don't waste your energy fighting your anxiety. If you keep thinking, "This is awful I feel anxious," or "My anxiety must be a sign I'm not good enough," you'll have little energy leftover to face the task at-hand.
So rather than try to reduce your anxiety, focus on building your courage.
Accept that you're feeling anxious. Label your feelings by saying to yourself, "I feel anxious and that's OK." You might even go so far as to remind yourself that your anxiety is proof that you're doing something important.
Do Some If...Then Planning
Anxiety is fueled by our imaginations--and often, we imagine the worst case scenario. What if I forget what I was going to say? What if I don't know anyone at the party? What if I stumble over my words?
The best way to deal with those sorts of worries is to carry them through. Rather than think, "It will be a disaster if that happens," create a realistic plan for how you'll handle those things if they do happen.
For example, "If I forget my lines during my speech, then I'll walk back to the podium, take a deep breath, and look at my notes." Or, "If I encounter an awkward silence on this date, then I'll ask, 'What's the best vacation you've ever been on?'"
When you have a plan for dealing with the worst case scenario, you'll feel much more confident about your ability to handle the things that you fear most.
Give Yourself a Pep Talk
The conversations you have with yourself in the moments leading up to the big event determine your mindset. Do you walk into the room feeling confident about your ability to perform at your best? Or, do you wish you could hide in the corner because you're convinced you're going to fail?
Before you enter into an anxiety-provoking situation, give yourself a pep talk. Ask, "What would I say to a friend who was feeling nervous about this?" Then, offer yourself the same kind, compassionate words of wisdom.
Whether you say, "All you can do is your best," or, "Go knock 'em dead!" your pep talk can set the stage for you by getting you in the right frame of mind.
Take a Few Deep Breaths
Battling your mind is only half the battle when it comes to combatting anxiety. You also have to address your body.
Anxiety causes physiological symptoms--like a rapid heartbeat and sweaty palms. And those symptoms can fuel your anxious thoughts and feelings.
So it's important to have a few coping skills that can help calm your body when you experience the fight-or-flight symptoms.
Deep breathing is a simple but effective strategy for putting an end to the freak-out. Here are a few simple steps to follow:
- Breathe in through your nose slowly and deeply. Try to inflate your abdomen, not just your chest.
- Hold for a count of 3.
- Then, slowly exhale through pursed lips. Relax your face and shoulders as you relax.
- Repeat several times.
This exercise can help you become more present in the moment (and stop you from predicting doom and gloom) while also reducing your physiological symptoms.
Use deep breathing to calm yourself anytime you're starting to feel a bit of panic--whether it's in the weeks leading up to a big event or it's in the middle of a potentially life-altering opportunity.
Reframe Your Negative Self-Talk
Keep your focus on the things you can control. For example, you can control your performance but you can't control how the audience responds. And you can control how many people you introduce yourself to but you can't control how many people contact you after the networking event.
When your brain starts focusing on all the things you can't control, reframe your negative thoughts. Remind yourself, "All I can do is my best," or "I am only responsible for me."
You might also create a mantra beforehand that you can repeat liberally. Saying, "Do your best," each time you catch yourself thinking you're going to fail, can help counteract the negativity.
Regardless of whether you got the job, scored a second date, or nailed the speech, congratulate yourself for facing your fears.
Every time you step into an anxiety-provoking situation, you have an opportunity to practice your skills. And with practice, facing fears gets easier.
So celebrate the fact that you were brave and trust that you can face another anxiety-provoking situation again with even more knowledge about how to handle your discomfort. And remember that each time you face your fears, you build mental muscle and each step you take toward becoming mentally stronger, is one step toward reaching your greatest potential.