Anxiety is a major reason why patients come to see me. Driving tests, fear of flying, interviews or exams are the usual things that trigger their stress. Yet there is a simple way to reduce ‘nerves’ and improve performance – the ‘3 Ps’…
Accept that whatever it is that is worrying you will make you nervous. Nervousness will increase the closer it gets to the big day, and you must accept you are going to be nervous and there is nothing you can do about it. It is a normal reaction and everyone suffers from it. A university dean came to me suffering from terrible anxiety because he knew he had to give his annual speech in a few weeks. He had given this for a number of years, and felt more anxious each time. He falsely assumed that because he held an eminent position he should not feel such stress: ‘I’m an adult and shouldn’t feel like this.’ He began to feel better when I told him I would be more concerned if he didn’t feel as he did. Anxiety is normal.
Our fears are usually about what we don’t know, and therefore are afraid to face. There is little point in revising what you already know, and thinking you are working well. It is what you know little about that will catch you out; you need to write down what you think are your weaknesses and address them. If you think you are going to fail your driving test on your lack of reversing skills, work harder on those. Think about what questions you are likely to be asked at an interview and rehearse your answers. A piece of music you have to perform in public needs practice in the difficult sections, not the easy ones. Many people think they will succeed by practising what they are good at, and hoping that will be enough – often it is not. The dean was usually too busy to give any real thought to his speech until a day or two beforehand, and then tended to trust to luck and a few notes on the back of an envelope. I suggested he write out his speech in full two weeks before the presentation, and rehearse it every day until it became second nature. This included rehearsing to the empty college hall he would be using.
Imagine your driving test is in progress, and the way in which you are going to take each section. Think about things that may not quite go to plan, and accept these may happen. They will not necessarily mean you have failed, and if you have prepared for their occurrence you will be better able to ignore them if they occur. If they do not, so much the better. As the dean stood on stage, although he was nervous, when he looked at his speech it was so familiar to him he felt relaxed about saying it. He remembered standing on exactly the same spot the previous day, and pictured himself talking to an empty hall. Before he knew it he had given what was said to be his best presentation in years. Now he no longer fears speech day, but remembers to use the same routine to prepare every time.
Failure begins well before tests or exams are taken. Identify the sources of your stress, look at your strengths and weaknesses and prepare well in advance. Concentrate on what you want to do, not on anyone else. Remember that anxiety is natural and sharpens your attention.
Image courtesy of stuartpilbrow