Imagine that you’re about to take an important exam. The results of this exam will shape your future, so you’re understandably nervous! How should you deal with these feelings?

A.  Try to calm down.
B.  Go ahead and be nervous – and tell yourself that it will help you do better on your exam.

Most people would probably answer “A.” It’s commonly believed that we can’t perform well if we’re too anxious or stressed. But according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the better answer is actually “B.” Researchers have found that students who are told to embrace their feelings of anxiety (and view these feelings as beneficial) actually do better on their exams.

In a similar study, people were asked to give a stress-inducing speech. Half were told to relax and “calm down” beforehand. The other half were told to embrace their anxiety, and view their feelings as “excitement.” In the end, the stressed-out, excited group gave much better speeches. They were more engaging, confident, and persuasive than the people who had tried to relax before going on stage.

So it seems that stress and anxiety is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be really helpful!

Try to keep that in mind the next time you’re about to do something nerve-wracking! Don’t try to calm down. And skip the relaxation exercises. Instead, accept your feelings of anxiety, and tell yourself that these emotions will help you to perform better. Make your anxiety work to your advantage!

McGonigal, K. (2015, May 16-17). Stressed out? Embrace it. The Wall Street Journal, p. C3.