This article was previously published on May 8, 2017.
You’re getting ready for a big event. The stakes are high, the pressure is on, and you know that, somewhere inside, you have the talent to succeed beyond everyone’s expectations. Unfortunately, all of the talent and confidence is hiding under a cloud of doubt, fear, jitters, and an impressive amount of sweat.
It’s completely natural to experience physical and emotional stress when faced with important moments in our lives, whether it be an interview, a first date, or a big presentation at work. It is also an incredibly inconvenient time to feel stress because it’s detrimental to our success and makes us feel terrible. And while you may feel like something is wrong with you for feeling this way, it’s actually a deeply embedded, evolutionary response meant to help humans survive throughout history (thanks a lot, ancestors).
When your mind perceives a threat (real or imagined) it triggers the amygdala section of your brain to fire “fight or flight” messages to the hypothalamus part of the brain, which then tells the rest of the body via the autonomic nerve system there’s a life-threatening issue, even if there isn’t one. Adrenaline and cortisol are increased in the body, which results in symptoms like rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, extra blood flowing to the muscles, loss of peripheral vision, headaches, clammy hands, dry mouth, digestive issues, clenched muscles, tingling, and dizziness.
These physical symptoms of stress send additional signals to your brain that there’s danger ahead, causing your brain to freak out more, and thus the vicious cycle continues. When people suffer from chronic stress, it means that these hormones stay elevated in the body over an extended period of time, which is detrimental to your health and can cause serious damage like unhealthy weight gain, increased blood pressure, and heart attacks. Additionally, people may experience mental symptoms like insomnia, anger, dread, panic, irritability, depression, and anxiety. That’s why it is incredibly important to develop techniques to manage your stress as soon as it strikes. Here are six awesome ways to combat anxiety when you’re under pressure.
1. Take a Deep Breath
There’s a reason why “take a deep breath” is a knee-jerk response people have to someone who is stressed or anxious. When it comes to managing anxiety or pressure, the practice of deep breathing is the oldest trick in the book. It makes sense that our most basic life source has the greatest potential to restore equilibrium in our bodies. Part of the reason for this is that your body responds to a threat with rapid, short breaths, and taking deep belly breaths actually triggers a relaxation response and tricks your brain into thinking everything is fine.
Check out these great breathing techniques the next time you need to destress.
2. Get Your Body Involved
Numerous studies have shown that there is a strong connection between physical activity and successful stress management. Exercise reduces stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline and increases endorphins, all of which balance our bodies to help us feel happy and relaxed.
Additionally, our physical actions reinforce our emotions. By responding to a stressful situation with a smile instead of a frown, you can actually lower your heart rate and release dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, all of which help to combat stress.
Imagine a scenario in which you not only succeed, but you go above and beyond your own expectations. Pay attention to details, and create a play-by-play in your mind, showing yourself how you will respond at each step. Additionally, you can walk through the potential things that could go awry, and then make a plan for how you will handle each situation. While this does not allow you to predict the future, you can trick your brain into thinking you know exactly what is going to happen. You may also realize that all the big things you fear could go wrong are actually much smaller than they originally seemed. All of this will naturally soothe your body’s physiological response to a survival threat. Your brain will think “I’ve got this” helping you to relax long enough to crush it in real life.
4. Write everything down
Worry and stress inhibit the part of our brain’s cognitive function that processes memory and cause us to be more forgetful, which is the last thing we need when entering a high-pressure situation. Luckily, there’s a way to literally unload beforehand. According to a University of Chicago study, writing down your worries is a way to get them out of your head, making room for thoughts and brain power that are actually helpful to your success.
5. Avoid caffeine
While coffee can have the power of boosting your mood and making you feel awake, alive, and ready to conquer anything, the burst is short-lived, and can cause worrying side effects (literally). In countless studies, caffeine has proven to increase stress responses in our bodies like racing thoughts, rapid heart rate, and a sense of impending doom. Experts have shown that if you’re someone who gets anxious easily, coffee can exacerbate your issues, so it’s best to switch to herbal tea when the stakes are high.
6. Stay in the Moment
Applying mindfulness techniques in high-pressure scenarios improves your focus and allows you to perform better. Try to stay with your body, and with your breath. When the moment you have been worrying about finally arrives, you can trust that you have done all of your homework ahead of time and are fully prepared to focus on the task at hand. Try to stay out of your own head, and when thoughts arise, acknowledge them and let them pass through your mind without attaching to them. Instead, focus on everything around you, using your five senses. Notice the air in the room, the way your clothing feels on your skin. Take time to be fully in the moment, rather than giving your thoughts all of your attention. By doing this, you will realize that there is no real threat in front of you, and brain won’t feel the need to respond to danger. As a result, you’ll feel more calm, relaxed, and able to take on the world.
How do you calm your nerves when the pressure is on?
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