Whether you're a chronic worrier or steady as a rock, chances are that you have experienced anxiety at one time or another. I'm not talking about panic attacks or anxiety disorders, just the run-of-the-mill anxiety we experience when we are about to face someone or something that sets those butterflies a-fluttering.
Think blind date, job interview, marriage proposal, confronting your nosy neighbor...any situation that might make you tense and fearful. You're worried about the impression you'll make, you fear you might embarrass yourself, you're afraid that you'll come across as unprepared or that you will get a negative reaction.
The anticipation of potentially stressful events can be worse than the event itself. So when the heat is on, how do you keep your cool? Next time you are worried about an upcoming event, try some of these ideas and see how they work:
Do Your Homework
Preparation is key. If you are worried that things will go wrong or that you won't be ready for whatever is thrown at you, take a hint from the scouts and be prepared. Gather whatever information or tools that you think you might need and have them at the ready.
Breathing exercises really can soothe you and help to keep your heart rate and stress level down. One of my favorites is to breathe in and out through your nose counting as you do. Count as you breathe in, pause and count the same number as you breathe out so that the in-breath and the out-breath are equal. Take a couple of normal breaths and repeat but make the pause a little bit longer this time. A couple more normal breaths and repeat making the pause longer still. As you proceed, you will find that your breathing naturally begins to slow and the longer pauses seem perfectly comfortable.
The key with breathing to reduce stress is that you need to practice it a lot when you are not stressed. Then you can easily fall back on a breathing pattern that relaxes you when you find yourself getting stressed. Don't wait until you're in the middle of a difficult situation to give it a try or you might sound and look like you're in labor. Not a good image to project, trust me.
Use your imagination to rehearse. Play the scenario out in your mind over and over seeing yourself in a positive light. In your minds eye, play the role as you hope to in real life. See yourself looking and speaking with confidence...imagine all of the possible obstacles that you might encounter and see yourself handling them gracefully. Role-playing, even imaginary role-playing, can really improve your performance in real life.
An interesting exercise is to eventually combine this with your breathing exercises. When you are visualizing your scenario and you feel yourself getting nervous, practice altering your breathing to the relaxing pattern that you've been practicing (you have been practicing, right?) and see how it calms you and allows you to continue on with your visualization.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
This is a wonderful way to take some of the pressure off. Visualizing your scenario as a sitcom can help you to keep the seriousness of the situation in perspective. Run through the scenario in your head imagining how it would play out on your favorite television comedy. What sarcastic remarks or pratfalls could be a part of it? Imagine it going horribly, but hysterically, wrong. Making yourself laugh can help to break the tension.
Focus on Others and the Situation
When the time finally arrives, it's time to get out of your own head. Nothing can screw you up more than analyzing your every move as you make it. The second-guessing and hesitation will undermine your performance. Focus on what is happening around you, on trying to listen carefully and on responding to what is going on now. There will be plenty of time for second-guessing later.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, you can keep your cool and stay in control. Do your homework, practice your breathing, keep your sense of humor and when the moment comes, stay in it. Try out some of these ideas and let me know how it goes. Have any other ideas? Please share!