Overcome fear and anxiety with this simple technique
I recently stumbled across a technique that has helped to overcome my performance anxiety.
Stress and anxiety affects nearly everyone in some form. If you are like me, simply the thought of public speaking may cause your heart to race, and your head to sweat.
The anticipation of stressful activities alone is sometimes more stressful than the event itself. Anxiety builds up and we look for temporary relief, but that ends up leading to more long-term anxiety.
This vicious reinforcing loop is known as the anxiety cycle. This cycle of delaying and avoiding the issue ends up intensifying future anxiety. In a recent reading of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, I ran across a technique to help break the anxiety cycle.
In the novel, Frankl recounts a story of a patient that came to him after a lifetime of severely stuttering. The patient had this speech impediment his entire life in other than one instance. When he was a schoolboy he was caught stealing a ride on a trolley. He attempted to gain the conductor’s sympathy by emphasizing being a poor, stuttering child. However, when he leaned into his stutter, he found that he was unable to stutter at all.
Paradoxical intention is a therapeutic procedure to treat patients suffering from certain conditions like insomnia and performance anxiety. In this cognitive method, patients are encouraged to engage in their most feared behavior. The patient is encouraged to do the very thing they fear. This creates a paradox against the fear that ultimately breaks the anticipatory anxiety cycle.
Consider the case of the sweaty man (another of Frankl’s examples). A man who anticipated sweating excessively was directed to deliberately show how much he could sweat.
The next time the man had anxiety about being sweaty he tried his hardest to sweat as much as he possibly could. He found that this reduced his anxiety and in turn the very sweat he feared.
Paradoxical intention shows that through detachment and humor, you can distance yourself from the fear and the physical symptoms. Confronting the fear and putting a humorous spin on it restores your trust in being authentically you.
This approach should not be seen as a miracle method and does not apply to every person or situation, but I have found it to be a great tool. I encourage you to give it a try.
The next time you are worried are giving a presentation, visualize yourself trying as hard as you can to bomb it.
If you are having trouble falling asleep, attempt to intentionally stay up late.
You may find that creating a paradoxical intention makes your anxiety fade away.