Overcome Stage Fright Just By Thinking About It
April 9, 2013

Overcome Stage Fright Just By Thinking About It

[ Watch the Video: Stage Fright Can Be Your Friend ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Rewiring how you think about public speaking may be the key to overcoming your fear of it, according to research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Researchers found learning to rethink the way you see your shaky hands, pounding heart and sweaty palms can help you perform better mentally and physically. Encouraging yourself to reframe the meaning behind these signs of stress could be an effective way of helping many people cope with and even master stage fright.

The team had 69 adults give a five-minute talk about their personal strengths and weaknesses with only three minutes to prepare. The researchers said around half of the participants had a history of social anxiety. All of the participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups.

The first group was presented information about the advantages of the body's stress response that encouraged them to reinterpret their body's signals as beneficial. This group also read summaries of three psychology studies that showed the benefits of stress. The second group acted as a control and received no information about reframing stress.

Participants who received no stress preparation literature experienced a threat response that was captured and recorded by cardiovascular measures. Physiological responses of the group that was prepped, however, displayed evidence they were able to cope better with their public speaking task.

"The problem is that we think all stress is bad," explains Jeremy Jamieson, lead author on the study and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "We see headlines about 'Killer Stress' and talk about being 'stressed out.'"

He explained those feelings simply mean our body is preparing to address a demanding situation.

"The body is marshaling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups and delivering more oxygen to our brains," Jamieson said. He added the body's reaction to social stress is the same flight or fight response produced when one has to confront a physical danger.

"If we think we can't cope with stress, we will experience threat. When threatened, the body enacts changes to concentrate blood in the core and restricts flow to the arms, legs, and brain," he explains. "Lots of current advice for anxious people focuses on learning to 'relax,' — you know, deep, even breathing and similar tips."

The researchers suggest practicing such calming techniques in situations that do not require peak performance. When a high-level situation occurs, such as a job interview or speaking engagement, the team suggests reframing the way you think about stress.

Another group of researchers studying stage fright looked into how animals react to the presence of human audiences. This team found horse riders suffer more stress when performing in front of an audience, but the horses also get stage fright and react similarly, with or without an audience.