As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to study with Dr. Philip Zimbardo who among other things explored how people’s orientation to time – past, present, or future – influenced the way in which they experienced life. My time with Zim has me always on the look out for research on the psychology of time. Recently, I found two studies that directly apply to managing anxiety that can help nervous communicators.
Research out of the University of London’s Psychology Department explored how temporal distancing can help adolescents experiencing event driven anxiety (e.g., preparing to take a test or deliver a presentation) reduce their nervousness. Temporal distancing consists of imagining a time in the future where your current stressor no longer carries its level of import and significance. Essentially, this anxiety management technique helps you put the current stressor in context when you consider it in the broader scope of your life.
Put this technique into practice: You can practice distancing by simply thinking of a future time between one and ten years out – days or weeks do not have as big of a stress reduction impact – where you see the consequences of your stressful event on your life. For example, if you are very worried about an upcoming presentation, you can reduce this stress by thinking about how important this speech will be to your future life five years from now.
Another future casting technique that helps reduce anxiety involves looking on the bright side immediately beyond your speaking situation. Contemplate positive events after you present. For example, if you are presenting during a meal, you can think about the nice chocolate dessert you will enjoy after you speak. Further, you can envision some fun activity you will enjoy on the weekend after your Friday corporate all-hands presentation you’re delivering.
Put this technique into practice: To make use of this technique, you can generate a list of things that you can look forward to after you present. These can be activities or items. By imagining near-term. Positive future outcomes, you can help yourself to be less anxious during your presentation.
Both of these anxiety management approaches teach the same lesson: By thinking about your future, you can minimize the anxiety that you feel today.