Do you feel anxious with anticipation before a job interview? A big meeting? A test? Experts say this type of anxiety is good and, in fact, necessary for success. Of course, there is a fine line between a little anxiety and a lot.
According to a report cited in The Wall Street Journal, small amounts of anxiety that precipitate a big event can actually help you focus your efforts and allow you to perform better, but if you teeter over the edge in either direction – too anxious or too relaxed – performance can suffer.
Stephen Josephson, a psychologist for performers of all types, told WSJ, “Coaches and sports psychologists have always known that you don’t want your athlete to be relaxed right before an event. You need some ‘juice’ to go fast.”
What if you are not a performer? For those not in the limelight, anxiety can still be a regular part of daily success. Known as a “procrastinating perfectionist,” these individuals wait until the last minute to fuel that tension that leads to a better performance. You may know these individuals – always running a tad bit late or scrambling to turn in homework or work reports the night before they are due, but always delivering immaculate work. These are the people that thrive on that edge-of-your seat anxiety.
This methodology doesn’t work for everyone. For many individuals this anxiety “sweet spot” is impossible to achieve. People with ADHD or a history of severe anxiety, panic disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder find it difficult to use anxiety as a tool for success. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these individuals are also more likely to suffer from heart disease, migraines, digestive disorders and chronic pain.
How do you harness the power of “just right” anxiety?
Most psychotherapists can’t answer that question. They tend to see more people with too much anxiety rather than too little. Those that are lacking anxiety are often suffering from an underlying condition, such as deep depression.
Psychologist, Jason Moser at Michigan State University, told WSJ, “The best way to stay in the ‘sweet spot’ is to channel anxiety into a productive activity – like studying and acing the test. I tell a lot of my patients that Nike has a really great slogan – ‘Just do it.’”
Even if you are the type that puts the “thrill” of anxiety in your daily life through efforts of procrastination, it can become unhealthy and there are signs that your anxiety is out of control. “Needing a glass of wine to relax is disconcerting. If you need solace at the end of the day, you are torturing yourself in some way,” Marianne Legato, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University in New York, told WSJ.
It seems most experts would agree that channeling anxiety is the secret to success. Dr. Josephson says, “Being willing to feel some anxiety and not running away from it is huge.”