Do you freeze before a big meeting or date?
You’re not alone. Cases of anxiety and depression have tripled since the start of the pandemic. But with the right mental framework you can transform anxiety into a performance-enhancing drug.
What really happens when you feel anxious?
Most guys are raised to ignore, push aside, or “just get over” negative emotions. But there’s a difference between acting tough and being strong.
In stressful situations, your brain releases a chemical called norepinephrine. Think of norepinephrine as a two-sided coin. On one side, you get good things like heightened awareness, arousal, and focus. But on the other, you get restlessness and anxiety.
What this means is that, physically you feel the same way whether you’re about to walk into a meeting with your manager or the bedroom with a hot date. It’s how you react to those feelings that determines your response and ability to perform.
So, how can you make anxious situations feel less like a threat to your life and more like you’re about to get laid?
1. Don’t try to “calm down”
Your first response when you start to feel anxious is probably to try to get it under control. This is a mistake.
Research out of Harvard Business School found that people who reframe their anxiety as excitement performed better than those who tried to bury it or “calm down.”
So when your boss calls you into a meeting and your chest starts to tighten, don’t try to make it stop. Instead, reframe the situation.
Is this something to be afraid of? Or is it an opportunity to finally prove yourself in front of him?
Either way, your body will react the same – faster heart rate, hyper-alertness, sweaty palms. But if you choose to see anxiety as excitement, you can harness those feelings for good.
2. See stress as a challenge
Tiger Woods famously said that if he doesn’t feel anxious before a game, he knows he’s going to fail. Stephen Colbert found the only way to control his performance-induced panic attacks was to keep getting on stage.
The people you look up to feel anxious just like you. The difference is that they choose to push through.
Psychologist Carol Dweck calls this a fixed vs. a growth mindset.
Guys with a fixed mindset believe their feelings and abilities are static. You messed up and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But with a growth mindset, you see potential failure as a chance to grow and learn. Stress becomes a challenge. And if it all goes to hell, you get to take a ride with the devil and come back better than before.
3. Use a cognitive reappraisal to get over self-doubt
Unfortunately, the more you associate an act with anxiety, the worse your reaction will be. So if you’ve always felt sweaty and anxious before a date, that’s probably not going to instantly go away.
If you can’t reframe anxiety, there’s still one more tool you can try.
A cognitive reappraisal is a way to purposefully alter the way you think about an event or feeling. The goal isn’t to ignore your anxious feelings. Instead, you’re simply challenging your assumptions.
Let’s stick with the work example. When you get an email from your boss asking for a Monday morning call, rather than letting your self-doubt run wild, ask yourself:
- Is your work really that bad?
- Is it so bad that you’re going to get fired?
Anxiety can fool us into thinking things are worse than they really are. But chances are, when you face the reality of the situation, you have no reason to feel anxious.
Of course, when it comes down to it, it can be hard to figure out which worries are rational and which ones aren’t. This is where counselling comes in. A therapist can provide that second opinion to help you determine when your anxiety is useful and when it’s irrational.
Anxiety can be your choice
The Stoics of Ancient Greece believed the only thing we have true control over in life is how we react to situations. And while it may not feel like it, you have a choice when it comes to anxiety. You just need to learn how to see the other path.
At Manifest Wellness, we’ve created a new approach to therapy specifically for men. As part of our program, we’ll help you learn how to reframe anxiety, rebuild your self-confidence, and become the man you’ve always wanted to be.