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Strategies to help you deal with performance anxiety

The strategies outlined below offer some simple steps that you can take to try to control your level of performance anxiety. However, for them to be effective you need to be active in implementing them prior to and during the event.

1. Develop positive thinking and visualisation skills

As described previously, having negative thoughts is one indicator that you may be experiencing performance anxiety. It is useful, therefore, to be aware of some of the common negative thought patterns so that you can try to replace them with positive thoughts.

Negative thought Positive replacement
'It will be a disaster.' 'I will aim to do the best I can.'
'I never do any good at this kind of thing, it's bound to go horribly wrong.' 'Just because I had a problem with this is in the past does not mean that things are bound to go wrong.'
'They won't like me.' 'They like what they have read on my application form/CV otherwise they would not be interviewing me.'
'They are looking for ways of catching me out.' 'They are giving me an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge of something that I have worked hard to understand.'
'They will ask me about an item on my application form that is a weakness of mine.' 'If it had been a big problem they would not have short listed me for interview. How can I talk about it in the most positive way?'
'I will fail my degree and never get the career of my choice if I don't do well in this presentation.' 'The marks for this presentation are only a small percentage of my overall degree. If I don't do as well as I would like there will be other opportunities to improve my marks.'

Try to become aware if you are having negative thoughts and, if so, think of a positive replacement for them (you could consider asking your friends to help you with this).

It may also be useful to visualise yourself successfully completing the task. Imagine yourself coming out of the interview or presentation and moving on to other things in your life beyond the anxiety provoking experience. Plan a treat or social event afterwards that is not dependent upon the outcome.

Using these processes will help you to keep a sense of perspective about the event and stop things from spiralling out of control. Focus on the present and what you can do now to deal with the situation, rather than dwelling on what you should have done or how similar events went in the past.

2. Plan and practise your presentation carefully

Planning and practising for your presentation or interview carefully can have a number of beneficial effects on your anxiety levels, including helping you to feel more confident and in control prior to the event. The better prepared you are and the more you know your material, the more likely you will be to recall it when you are feeling nervous or stressed.

When you are rehearsing for your interview or presentation, picture yourself as if you are in front of your audience/interview panel and rehearse out loud. If possible, do this in front of some friends who could give you constructive feedback about your verbal and non-verbal communication, and your time-keeping. If you do not want a friend to watch you, consider making an audio or video tape of yourself. You can then listen or watch the tape and provide your own feedback. Identify at least five positive things about your skills, as well as areas for further development.

Preparing for questions at the end of a presentation or during an interview may also help to lower your anxiety levels. Read over your presentation notes or application form critically to identify areas of possible weakness and prepare positive answers. Friends and staff in the University may be able to assist with this. During the event, give yourself time to think of a response to the question by pausing, repeating the words of the question or, if you need longer, asking for a few moments to consider your answer.

3. Map out your anxieties

You may find it helpful to identify the aspects of the situation which are causing you the greatest levels of anxiety, in order to plan steps to prevent them from becoming a reality. Imagine the presentation or interview and write down the aspects which cause you to feel particularly anxious, and then identify something you could do in advance which would help to prevent this from occurring. For instance, if you are worried about using equipment, make sure that you practise using it before the event. Alternatively, if you are worried that a weakness will be highlighted, plan a positive response to this in advance.

4. Look after yourself

Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally will help to control your anxiety levels by making you feel relaxed and using up some of the nervous energy that is produced when you are under stress. The following strategies are recommended.

  • Eat a well balanced diet which limits alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods.
  • Aim to have between six to eight hours sleep per night.
  • Exercise regularly as this uses up nervous energy and relaxes muscles.
  • Make time for fun such as participating in a sport or hobby.
  • Practise taking control of your breathing. Concentrate on breathing out to a slow count of four; the breathing in will take care of itself.