Why Calming Down Is the Last Thing You Should Do Before a Stressful Situation

Experts say the key to a great performance is getting excited about it

Forget taking a deep breath. The next time you’re about to walk into a situation that makes you anxious, like speaking in public or meeting the president of a company on your final job interview, psych yourself up for the big moment.

According to a new study that was recently published in the American Psychological Association, you’re more likely to ace the stressful act if you get hyped up instead of calming yourself down.

"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," ScienceDaily reports study author Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, of Harvard Business School, as saying. "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."

During one of the experiments, study volunteers (63 men and 77 women) were instructed to give a speech on why they’d make an ideal employee — a speech that was videotaped in order to be judged by a panel. Before the amateur speakers began, certain participants were told to say to themselves, “I am excited,” while the others were told to say, “I am calm.” The moderators felt the excited individuals were more “persuasive, competent and relaxed” than the calm folks. The pumped-up people also spoke for a longer period of time.

In another — and more entertaining — experiment, 113 volunteers (54 men and 59 women) were directed to sing a song a la karaoke. Chosen individuals were told to announce they were feeling one of five emotions — anxious, excited, calm, angry or sad — while the control group were told to keep quiet. With their heart rates being measured and their singing ability (pitch, rhythm and volume) being evaluated by the video game, the excited vocalists scored an average of 80 percent, followed by the calm, angry and sad singers at 69 percent. The anxious songsters came in last place, scoring an average of 53 percent.

Think about being in the audience of a concert or a sports game. There’s usually an opening act to get the crowd on their feet. It’s all about building momentum and creating a positive energy -- an energy that is meant for the person or people performing in the main event.

You don’t need thousands of people cheering you on as you take center stage though. After all, you’re your own biggest fan.

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