Imagine that you have an interview for a big job you want coming up. And imagine that said job interview is with someone very important and who has a reputation for being tough.
In the build up to this event, you’ll probably find yourself feeling very anxious and nervous. This will trigger the release of fight or flight hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine. As such, you’ll start shaking, you’ll start sweating, your pupils will dilate and your muscles will contract.
This stress response is designed to help us if ever we get into a physical confrontation or we need to run away. But when we’re in a situation like an interview or a date, it really doesn’t help.
So the question is, what can you do to overcome this and stay calm even in high pressured situations?
Luckily, there are a few methods that are known to work quite well…
The first thing to do is to remember to breathe. And don’t just breathe – breathe deeply. When you do this, you will be able to instantly engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ state that we can go into. This state is actually the exact opposite of fight or flight and it helps us to feel calmer and more relaxed.
The worst thing you can do when you start to panic is to breathe faster and more shallowly, as this just makes you more stressed and can eventually cause you pass out if things get really bad!
Lean Into It
Another tip? Don’t worry about being stressed. Too often, we get stressed and anxious and then try to fight it. Unfortunately, fighting stress is completely counterproductive as the more we fight, the more we raise our fight or flight response even more. Eventually, this causes our heart rate to run more quickly, our muscles to contract more and for us to become even tenser.
At this point, you’re now stressed about being stressed!
So instead, the goal should be to help yourself accept the stress and recognise it for what it is. Stress makes you your strongest and most powerful. Instead of trying to fight it, instead just let it happen but give it a positive spin. This might mean thinking of your situation as a challenge, or it might mean thinking of an idol you know who has handled a similar situation well. Rise to the challenge and enjoy your body getting worked up ready to enhance your performance.
If you can do all this well, then you can eventually tap into the enhanced performance without the feelings of dread or the crawling stomach that can come from regular stress. If you do this really well, then it can become a ‘flow state’ which is a state of heightened performance characterised by reduced activity in the frontal cortex.
So just concentrate on the task at hand, give it full focus, feel your body become more alert and tuned and tell yourself: game on.