Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Guaranteed Anxiety-Destroyer

You've got a major presentation, date, conversation, contest, procedure (or anything) coming up and you're getting the jitters.

What can you do to alleviate your anxiety until you get to the point where you're in worry-free gear (if you're good, this'll come about less than three minutes after you start)?

  • Telling yourself you've done it before won't help (much).
  • Telling yourself that logically there's nothing to worry about only shows how useless logic can be.
  • Telling yourself it's not about doing well and only about trying sounds real pious, but does almost nothing for your nerves. Likewise, saying it's okay and it's only about giving it your best shot is, well, not really okay.
  • Having a cup of coffee or a smoke or taking a walk helps a little, but is like providing velvet pillows to cure a chest pain i.e. the 'feeling better' is superficial at best and the monster continues to lurk.

So what do you do?

Okay, say you're ten minutes away from that $10 million presentation and you're about to pee in your pants. Then suddenly an assistant appears and tells you that your child has been admitted to hospital for food-poisoning....VoilĂ . Problem solved.

You're not going to be worried about making a fool of yourself in front of the client, are you?

That's the principle. If you want to battle anxiety for the moment, think (and worry) about something bigger than the moment.

Am I asking you to imagine horrible scenarios for your family so you can perform to your best? No. I'm saying that the removal of tension from a neural context requires that we switch contexts.

Apply your mind to something of similar or greater importance you'll need to address later on (or somewhere else) and it immediately eases off from the here-and-now.


Alex Tang said...

hi Alwyn,

does it work that way? How can I do a presentation when I am worried sick about my kid?

alwyn said...

hi Alex, a few points:

- your jitters about the presentation would've disappeared

- you could even 'dedicate' the presentation to your kid (where previously all you were thinking about is getting the first 5 mins out)

- you exude a seriousness not otherwise present

but having said that, the sick kid example was just an illustration of the *principle* that if you 'think about' something higher than what's bothering you now, then the fears associated with the now 'even' vanish (at least temporarily).

Alex Tang said...

interesting. But maybe the sick kid illustration is not a good one. A good father will have postponed the presentation and rushed to the hospital :)

In medicine , we have this principle called 'counter irritation.' If a child have a tummy ache and you know it is not due to anything severe like acute appendicitis or intersusseption, we recommend rubbing the child's tummy with Chinese medicated oil.

This works because the medicated oil produces heat (counter irritation) which makes the child forget about his or her original irritation.

alwyn said...

'counter-irritation' sounds just about right; by creating a 'diversion' we ease the pain from the present.

in my example, what i was trying to get at was to 'artificially' focus on a psychological issue 'greater than' the one we're nervous about.