Think anxiety is all bad? Or think you have little control over it? If you reframe the way you think about it—if anxiety becomes a positive, rather than a negative—your body responds, and you do perform better.
In this study, undergraduate students preparing to take the GRE took a practice test. Before they started, they were told that feeling anxious was normal, and that the study was meant to test the relationship between their “physiological arousal” and their performance on the test. Half the students were also told that, based on recent research, anxiety can actually help test-takers.
The students primed to think of anxiety as helpful did better on the math (but not verbal) section of the test, and had increased sympathetic nervous system responses (a sign of facing a challenge head-on). The effects were surprisingly long lasting: over a month later, they did better on the math section of the real GRE, too.
Anxiety might be hard to shake, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless over it. By thinking of anxiety in a different way, you can transform it from a hindrance into fuel.