Ask pretty much anyone you know about stress and you’ll hear an earful. It’s almost as if we’ve come to accept and even expect our lives to be stressful. The physiological aspect of stress is the focus of this post. This brings us to the hormone known as cortisol.
In case you’re wondering…cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands to help us regulate blood pressure, cardiovascular function and the way the body uses proteins, carbohydrates and fat. We’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” syndrome. The reason I bring that up is that cortisol secretion increases in response to physical and psychological stress, which is why it’s often referred to as the “stress hormone.”
So what does this have to do with public speaking? Since 1994 I’ve been coaching clients in how to sound their best and they consistently tell me that speaking in public is extremely stressful. This is of great concern because prolonged levels of elevated cortisol may have the following negative effects: increased blood pressure, decreased bone density, lowered immunity and impaired cognitive performance.
For years I’ve helped my clients learn to manage their public speaking stress by reframing their perception. Now there’s research to support this approach. In 2013, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study by Alison Wood Brooks of the Harvard Business School. The article is titled Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement.
Most of us have been told that it’s best to simply “calm down” when feeling nervous about speaking. In the discussion segment of this article, Ms. Brooks writes: “Being asked to give a 2-min public speech on camera caused individuals to feel very anxious. Compared with reappraising their anxiety as calmness by stating ‘I am calm,’ reappraising anxiety as excitement by stating ‘I am excited’ caused individuals to feel more excited, to speak longer, and to be perceived as more persuasive, more competent, confident and persistent.”
In addition to public speaking, this particular study also noted the same positive effect on two other tasks: math performance and singing. Ms. Woods points out that this reappraising behavior has a direct impact on mind-set which improved subsequent performance.
Feeling excited yet? If so, please call me and let’s make this work for you.