10 little-known ways to quell performance anxiety

Prepping for an on-air interview or a live presentation? The adrenaline rush can do more than charge you up; it can also spike feelings of apprehension. Try these soothing tactics.

I went to CNN’s AC 360 to shoot a segment on body language before the Republican debate.

With that anticipation came adrenaline, and with that adrenaline rush came feelings of anxiety. So, I was heartened to see in the research literature new ways to reduce anxiety. I couldn’t do all these, so I stuck to my tried and true ways of reducing anxiety—breathing exercises, positive imaging, mantras, and so on.

Here are 10 mostly new ways that research says can reduce those pesky feelings of dread. I’ll experiment with a few. Which ones will you try?

1. Amp up your empathy. Anxiety increases your feelings of isolation, so consciously being more sensitive to others may help you feel better. It’s a minor play on the idea of “doing good because it makes you a better person.”

2. Be kind. Even better than empathy is performing a small act of kindness. When I read about this one, I resolved to be extra kind to the coffee servers, the flight attendants, and the drivers, not to mention my fellow passengers, all the way to NYC. You know what? It seemed to help. At least, I felt a little sunnier than perhaps I otherwise would have.

3. Take kava. This root, found in the South Pacific islands, is traditionally served as a tea but is also available as a dietary supplement. It has a calming effect. So this recommendation comes with a stern warning to investigate any health risks before taking it, as you would whenever you try a dietary supplement. Has anyone tried it?

4. Reject your family history. Apparently about a third of your anxiety level can be explained by how anxious your parents were. To some degree, you learn to be anxious, so consciously unlearning anxiety may help. Try relaxation techniques, breathing, and yoga-all are soothing.

5. Ditch the Prozac. This one’s a surprise. We’ve been taught that serotonin is one of the happy chemicals, and Prozac (and other such drugs) can increase serotonin. It turns out the opposite is true. So reducing your intake of similar drugs may decrease your serotonin, thus decreasing your anxiety.

6. Get active. Sedentary behavior increases anxiety: Watching TV, sitting at a computer, using my laptop on an airplane (as I’m doing now) are all culprits. I’ll sprint through the airport once we land.

7. Eat fermented foods. Eating or drinking milk, cheese, yogurt and some kinds of bread (sourdough) that have probiotics will reduce anxiety. Bread and cheese for lunch! Why did I become a vegan?

8. Avoid anxious people. Anxiety is contagious, like a common cold. We spread it through our mirror neurons. So you’re better off hanging with confident people than commiserating with other anxious folk.

9. Eat prebiotic bacteria, too. Researchers at Oxford recently completed a clinical trial that showed that prebiotic foods (different from probiotic foods, but equally helpful) reduce anxiety. Asparagus, leeks and onions all are prebiotic foods, so eat your veggies.

10. Finally, relax. Of course, relaxation reduces anxiety. I’ll be relaxing when possible in the green room at CNN before the taping. That’s what green rooms are for—relaxing. At least, when you’re not stressing out.

In the long run, work on getting comfortable with the feelings that adrenaline brings, because adrenaline is your friend-it prepares you for optimal performance in high-stakes situations. The symptoms are uncomfortable, so learning to accept them is long-term work and very important.

In the short run, these anxiety reducers will help. Please let me know your favorite in the comments section.

A version of this article originally appeared on Public Words.


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