5 Strategies To Reduce Performance Anxiety

By Dr. Karyn

Hello DK Leadership Community!

The topic of anxiety is all around us – at work and at home! I recently did a TV segment for Cityline  (CityTV), and in my 10 years on the show, I have never received more emails and questions from parents, grandparents, managers and employers afterward! And this doesn’t surprise me, because the statistics are staggering!  Anxiety has always been around – but what is different is the spike we are now seeing, with nearly 41% of the population at risk for mental health issues according to The Globe & Mail. Millennials are reportedly 2x more likely to take stress / anxiety leaves than previous generations, and a University of California study reported that almost 50% of entrepreneurs had a mental health condition.

Research From The University Of Toronto Says That
Anxiety Is The #1 Mental Health Issue In North America

And while awareness is the first step, taking action and learning practical tools, solutions, and skills to manage our emotions needs to be the next step – and too often it is missing from this narrative! It’s critical that we understand what anxiety is (and I do think many are overusing the term), what causes it and most importantly what we can do to manage it. This applies to all age-groups – for families and organizations. If you want to see my full TV segment – click here:

We originally published the following article several years ago, but I wanted to share it with you again, as it is clearly still relevant! It’s called 5 Practical Strategies To Understand And Manage Anxiety – Be sure to share it with others to inspire and empower them! Enjoy!

Strategy #1:    Understand Anxiety

Many people think anxiety is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, which is simply not true! Part of managing emotions is to understand them. The truth is we have 100’s of emotions and anxiety is simply 1 of them. Feelings are not good or bad – just pleasant or unpleasant. I often say anxiety is our ‘friend’, not our ‘enemy’ – it’s trying to tell us something and we need to stop and pay attention!

Thoughts drive emotions – so when someone is feeling anxious – it’s usually because of a toxic thought that is underlying it (ex. What if I don’t pass this test?; What if I don’t get this promotion?; What if I don’t get into this university?) The feeling is not the problem – it’s the thought! Anxiety tends to be driven by thoughts related to the future and ‘What if’s”.

Strategy #2:    Understand The Performance Anxiety “Lie”

Performance anxiety is a more specific type of anxiety in that it is connected directly to performance (school, sports or work). I see this a lot when I work with high-performing students, athletes, professionals, entrepreneurs and CEO’s.

The irony is that on the outside, these people (usually overachievers) appear great! They are often the top of their class, receiving the highest professional awards or getting the latest promotions. And I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong or unhealthy about achieving, but the challenge arises when these high-performers start to attach their self-worth to what they do or what they achieve – that’s the real problem!  Their thinking is, “I’m ok if I achieve…”, so they often struggle with issues of perfection and confidence. In fact, I often say that anxiety, low self-esteem and perfectionism are “3 best friends who often hang out”. They are all separate issues that are highly correlated!

Strategy #3: Focus On What You Can Control

The secret to changing how we feel (we can’t do it directly) – is to change how we think. Our minds are extremely powerful, and the great thing is that we can control the thoughts we are telling ourselves! If we feed ourselves toxic thoughts: we will feel terrible! If we feed ourselves healthy thoughts: we will feel confident, happy and peaceful.

When I speak at organizations or educational conferences, I emphasize that we need to change the thinking from, “I’m ok if­ __X___” to “I’m ok as I am”! Yes, I may like to work on __X___ but my self-worth is not based on my achievements. When we have the courage to change the things within our control (and have a plan to do so), we will start to feel our anxiety decrease.

Strategy #4:    Re-Define Failure

Part of healthy thinking is re-defining failure or negative feedback. I once heard someone say that when he fails he simply studies the failure as ‘data’. He doesn’t personalize it – it’s simply information for him to study and learn from so he can improve. This type of thinking is extremely healthy!

When I started speaking professionally many years ago, I decided it was imperative to always (and I mean always!) get feedback sheets from my audience.  This can be a little risky, because feedback includes both the positive and the negatives! At first when I started asking for this feedback, I admit that I often took the negative feedback personally.  But I quickly realized I needed to stop doing this. People were simply commenting on my speaking skills, not who I am or my character. We need to detach from feedback and simply see it as data to help us grow!

Strategy #5:    Accept What You Cannot Control

I’ve noticed that many of the high performing clients who I help with managing anxiety are living their life OPPOSITE to what I suggest for Tips #4 and #5. They are accepting what they can control and focusing on what they can’t control, which will only drive their anxiety higher! We cannot control whether people like us, whether we get the job promotion or anything else that is in the future (external). But we can control today – how we think and what we do – which will highly impact the outcome (internal)! For example we can control:

  • Telling ourselves healthy thoughts
  • Detaching our self-worth from our performance
  • Striving for excellence in all that we do (work, school, relationships)
  • Surrounding ourselves with those we can learn from
  • Asking for feedback to improve
  • And seeing “failure” as data that we can learn from

These are the practical strategies which will not only reduce anxiety, but also lead to greater success! Many of my high performing clients with anxiety have admitted that they were ‘afraid’ to let go of their unrealistic, unhealthy, unloving thinking that their self-worth is based on their achievements. They were afraid that if they didn’t think this way – their performance would decrease (even though they would likely be happier).  Can a person change their thinking? Absolutely!! We’ve helped 1000’s of clients radically reduce their anxiety and increase their confidence! What surprises most of them is that not only are they much happier – but often they achieve more because they are more fearless and courageous in taking risks! What a great side-effect of managing anxiety!

Sincerely,
Your Leadership & Relationship Coach
Dr. Karyn