How Anxiety and Competitive Stress Affect Confidence

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“Trait anxiety” seems to determine whether stress helps or hinders us in competitive situations.

Trait anxiety measures a person’s tendency to see the world as either more worrisome or friendlier. Someone with high trait anxiety views an environment with suspicion and wariness. Those with low train anxiety see the world as more benign.

Trait Anxiety and Confidence

Research indicates that in a competitive setting, stress increases the confidence of low trait anxiety individuals and lowers the confidence of high trait anxiety people. The difference between people seems to be their biological reaction to the stress hormone cortisol.

Our adrenal glands, situated atop our kidneys, release cortisol during stressful situations. Research participants with both high and low trait anxiety have elevated cortisol levels in response to competitive stress. However, those with low anxiety demonstrate more confidence and those with high anxiety lack confidence.

“People often interpret self-confidence as competence,” says researcher Carmen Sandi, “So if the stress of, say, a job interview, makes a person over-confident, they will be more likely to be hired - even though they might not be more competent than other candidates. This would be the case for people with low anxiety.”

This research suggests there is an important connection between how people react in socially competitive settings and socioeconomic inequality. A high trait anxiety individual experiencing the stress of economic hardship will have a difficult time expressing the confidence expected of successful employment candidates.

Being Anxious in A Competitive World

In our competitive society, this puts high trait anxiety individuals at some disadvantage. However, there are steps anxious people can take to increase their likelihood of success.

For instance, nothing increases confidence like having good communication skills and practicing them. Learning these skills in an individual or group counseling setting allows people to practice what they learn in a non-threatening, supportive atmosphere.

Besides having communication skills, part of confidence is self-acceptance. It is impossible to view the world as a friendly place if we dislike or hate ourself. When we accept the self "as is," we can make life choices that accommodate our anxious traits and take steps to become more assertive individuals.
To be more assertive, we do not have to be loud, outgoing or dynamic. Those traits may get people noticed, but assertiveness is more dependent on self-trust, openness, sincerity, desire, standing tall, a firm handshake and decent eye contact. These are all qualities we can cultivate.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Chris & Karen Highland / flickr creative commons

 
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