And there’s a good chance your anxiety will skyrocket when you’re put in a high pressure situation. But your anxiety doesn’t have to be a liability. Understanding your anxiety and knowing how to respond to it could actually help you perform at your peak.
Anxiety Is Meant to Keep You Safe
Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion. It’s meant to alert you to danger so you can keep yourself safe.
When you encounter danger your anxiety triggers a physiological response. A rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, and muscle tension are just a few of the “fight or flight” symptoms you might experience.
That surge of energy encourages you to take action that will keep you alive.
But most anxiety-provoking situations in the modern world aren’t actually life-threatening. Giving a toast, asking for a raise, or launching a new business won’t kill you.
But, your body’s anxiety alarm bells might react to those types of events as though you’re in a life or death situation. The way you deal with that physiological response determines whether your anxiety is an asset or a liability.
Anxiety Will Affect Your Performance
Anxiety is often viewed as a hindrance. Athletes are told to rid themselves of their jitters and performers are told to reduce their stage fright. And for good reason–some studies have found that anxiety impairs memory and reduces concentration.
But anxiety doesn’t have to impair your performance. In fact, it can enhance it.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Individual Differences examined the ways individual’s appraised certain situations. They found that individuals who viewed stressful events as challenges–rather than threats–gained energy from their anxiety. That boost in energy enhanced their performance.
The individuals who performed best acknowledged their anxiety–as opposed to suppressing it. Those who tried to pretend they weren’t feeling anxious or those who worried that anxiety was going to hurt them, performed worse.
The researchers concluded that individuals who labeled their emotions and accepted their anxiety were able to devote energy to their goals, rather than waste energy trying to suppress anxiety.
Turn Your Anxiety Into a Competitive Advantage
When you experience anxiety you have two choices about where to devote that extra energy; into suppressing it or embracing. When you embrace it, you’re able to put your energy into the task-at-hand.
You can succeed when you feel anxious as long as you are open to the idea that nervous energy can fuel your performance. Thinking your anxiety will hold you back is likely to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead of thinking, “Everyone is going to see how nervous I am,” or “My anxiety is proof I’m not ready for this,” say, “Anxiety gives me energy. I can use that energy to perform even better.”
And the best news is, every time you face your anxiety head-on, you have an opportunity to build mental muscle. With practice, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to tolerate anxiety and you’ll become more likely to see stress as a challenge, rather than a threat.
When to Seek Professional Help
If anxiety interferes with your ability to function–it makes it difficult to work, attend school, or socialize–seek professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a very effective treatment for anxiety.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, mental strength trainer, and best-selling author. Her books include 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do and 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. She’s a sought after speaker who gave one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time. Her advice has been featured by numerous media outlets including Today, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, and Oprah.com.