Reframing Stress Could Help People Overcome Public Speaking Phobia, Study Suggests

Overcoming stress experienced from common phobias could be as simple as reframing it, according to a new study.

For stage fright in particular, thinking about the common manifestations of stress -- sweaty palms, heart beating at a million miles an hour -- in a positive light could help people to overcome the fear and perform better.

"Those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation," study researcher Jeremy Jamieson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, said in a statement. "The body is marshaling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups and delivering more oxygen to our brains."

The study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, included 69 adults who were given three minutes to come up with a speech about their strengths and weaknesses. About half of the study participants had experienced social anxiety before.

The researchers randomly broke the participants up into two groups: One group was told about why the stress response naturally produced by the body is a good thing, and that they should think about the stress sensations they feel before public speaking as a good thing. The other group wasn't given any advice about rethinking their view of stress.

Then, all the study participants gave their speech to judges, who looked displeased and bored as the participants talked. Then, after the speech, the study participants were instructed to do a number task where they counted backward from 996 in sevens; if they messed up, the judges made them start over.

Researchers found that the people who were given no reframing instruction were more threatened by this, compared with those who were taught to reframe their stress symptoms. The hearts of the people who were taught to reframe stress also pumped more blood, compared with those not taught about reframing stress.

Interestingly, researchers also found that those with the history of social anxiety didn't actually have any physiological differences from those without the history of social anxiety even though they reported feeling way more stressed before the public speaking activity.

The new findings lend more credence to the idea that it's not just the stressors, but our handling of the stressors that matters. Recently, a study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that our perceptions of our own stress have an impact on our heart disease risks. Similarly, letting yourself get caught up in thinking about stress could also be bad for health in that it could raise your body's inflammation, another study showed.

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