Scared Before a Speech? Go Bungee-Jumping!

It's been said we're more afraid of it than death.  People don't sleep for nights before it.  It may even have broken up some marriages.

What is it?

Public speaking.

But now a new study is saying that, instead of calming down -- taking deep breaths, imagining a beach with cooling breezes and gently lapping waves, a margarita beside us -- we should, instead, before a speech -- ride a roller coaster, see a scary movie, find a crowd and start the Harlem Shake.  Get excited, is the new mantra.

People who tell themselves to get excited rather than trying to relax can improve their performance during anxiety-inducing activities such as public speaking and math tests, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association, reports.

"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," the Web site quotes study author Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, 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.

"The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel," said Brooks, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, at

It's like anything else, I guess.  When an abnormality was spotted on a mammogram some years ago, I was told there was an 80% chance it was nothing.  So I moved forward on that.  When it turned out I was in the other 20%, it spared me some fear, at least for a while.  

When I was given a statistic of the cancer returning as 99% against, and I was once again in that one per cent, I focused on the positive.  It was a lower-grade cancer this time, and though I required major surgery, I was calmer than even the first time.

No, I didn't run out and go bungee-jumping before surgery, but being positive helped me recover more quickly -- and be able to attend my son's kindergarten skit four days later.

Since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down to combat performance anxiety, Brooks said.
"When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats," she 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."


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