Reframing Stress: Stage Fright Can Be Your Friend

April 8, 2013
Science Daily/University of Rochester
Fear of public speaking tops death and spiders as the nation's number one phobia. But new research shows that learning to rethink the way we view our shaky hands, pounding heart, and sweaty palms can help people perform better both mentally and physically.

For many people, especially those suffering from social anxiety disorder, the natural uneasiness experienced before giving a speech can quickly tip over into panic. "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. So, "cold feet" is a real physiological response to threat, not just a colorful expression.

In the study, 69 adults were asked to give a five-minute talk about their strengths and weaknesses with only three minutes to prepare. Roughly half of the participants had a history of social anxiety and all participants were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group was presented information about the advantages of the body's stress response and encouraged to "reinterpret your bodily signals during the upcoming public speaking task as beneficial." That group also was asked to read summaries of three psychology studies that showed the benefits of stress. The second group received no information about reframing stress.

Confronted with scowling judges, participants who received no stress preparation experienced a threat response, as captured by cardiovascular measures. But the group that was prepped about the benefits of stress weathered the trial better. That group reported feeling that they had more resources to cope with the public speaking task and, perhaps more tellingly, their physiological responses confirmed those perceptions. The prepped group pumped more blood through the body per minute compared to the group that did not receive instruction.

Surprisingly, this study also found that individuals who suffer from social anxiety disorder actually experienced no greater increase in physiological arousal while under scrutiny than their non-anxious counterparts, despite reporting more intense feelings of apprehension. This disconnect, argue the authors, supports the theory that our experience of acute or short-term stress is shaped by how we interpret physical cues. "We construct our own emotions," says Jamieson.
Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408133020.htm

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