One of the many things Chrysalis courses will help you understand, manage and facilitate others with is every day stress.
Apart from examining the self-talk we all engage in, it’s important that you understand the stress response so you can develop some techniques and strategies to help you deal with various forms of anxiety.
Step 1: Understand the stress response
When exposed to an event that the brain identifies as being challenging the fight, flight, freeze response is engaged. The brain produces stress hormones such as adrenaline and this triggers physical responses, which can include:
- Sweaty palms
- Increased heart rate
- More focused eye pupils and muscle tension.
These physical changes help us to take actions to deal with the challenge. It is normal to experience physical signs in response to stress whether the danger is real or imagined.
The stress response is therefore healthy and desirable. When it saves our life it is certainly protective.
However, the stress response can also be damaging. If it is produced in excess or produced when the stressor is no longer there it is neither healthy nor desirable.
People also ‘turn on’ the stress response when they are required to perform in some way. Therefore it is normal to experience some physical signs of stress e.g. sweaty palms. What you need to do is learn to manage this so it does not become excessive and overwhelm the ability to perform.
Evidence suggests that we perform best when moderately aroused or stressed. Therefore the secret when performing – whether it be in a job interview, an exam or delivering a speech – is to harness the energy and use it to your advantage. The secret is to use moderate levels of anxiety to boost performance.
Step 2: Tackling the fear of “failure”
One major cause of performance anxiety is the ‘fear of failure’. Why do we think failure is not OK? It’s usually because we tend to feel that we’ll be embarrassed and rejected if we don’t succeed. We link our self-esteem with achievements and we assume that others will not respect us if we fall short of their expectations.
To tackle this fear it’s important to make peace with being human and making mistakes. “Mistakes are OK!” Remember that sometimes you will go well, other times things will seem flat. This is true even for the ‘experts’. Remember the most confident public speaker will have days when it doesn’t go according to plan.
Step 3: Learn to face avoidance
Our favourite trick for eliminating performance anxiety is avoidance. However, this does nothing but continue the fear. Acknowledging the fear and doing the task anyway is the most successful strategy. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘acceptance paradox’.
Step 4: Prepare
Whether you’re planning to attend a job interview, to chair a meeting, or strike up a conversation with someone you’re interested in, it helps to prepare first. You’re likely to have increased confidence if you have a plan and you don’t have to improvise when the adrenalin is pumping.
Preparation might involve:
Conducting a mock interview beforehand, researching the job and the employer, being clear on what you have to offer the employer and why you want the job.
Seminar or presentation
Planning the talk, preparing aids such as cue cards, power point, practising out loud and getting feedback from someone who will listen, checking out the room where the presentation will be held beforehand.
Sitting an exam
Reading widely, targeted study, brushing up on exam techniques, looking at past exam papers.
Meeting new people
Observing how other confident people do it, knowing your body language and what works, knowing how to “do small talk”.
Step 5: Look at how your thinking can stress or calm you
People are extremely suggestible when they are anxious. Therefore if they’re engaging in negative self-talk they can bring about failure purely and simply because of what they tell themselves rather than responding to real external events. Likewise, engaging in positive and calming self-talk can help them to improve their performance and to act confidently.
If we put a tape recorder in your mind now I wonder what kinds of messages you would be giving yourself? Would we hear the inner critic or the inner fan club?
As human beings we often engage is unhelpful and self-sabotaging thoughts. Here are some examples:
“I just don’t fit in.”
“I’ve never been any good at study so I don’t know why that should change now.”
“Maybe if I’d enrolled in a Science course I would be doing better.”
“None of my lecturers like me.”
“I’ll never learn how to write well.”
“I don’t know why I have to learn this. I’ll never use it”
Note any that you particularly relate to and then:
Identify whether your thought is helpful or unhelpful.
Remember filling your head with scary thoughts diminishes your performance.
Replace unhelpful thoughts with calm thoughts.
Practice control and confidence.
Learn to relax so that when a stressful situation arises you will be in a calmer frame of mind to deal with it.