Have you ever tried to suppress the excitement of a group of little children as they wait for a treat they really want? It’s not easy is it? The more you shush them, the more they wiggle, giggle, and chatter. You have more success if you channel their energy toward another activity until the treat arrives.
Similarly, trying to suppress your own feelings of anxiety, stress, and frustration is like trying to put a lid on the excitement of a group of children. Suppression doesn’t work. Yet that’s how many people try to force themselves to be calm under pressure. And, as a result, they feel like a powder keg ready to blow.
A more effective approach combines channeling your physiological responses, thoughts, feelings and attitudes into productive activities. Rather than telling yourself all the things that can go wrong, you’ll be able to think about how things can go right. No longer will crises push you into a panic or state of paralysis, instead you’ll see that overcoming challenges starts to excite you, which actually gives you an inner peace and calm.
Here are some tips on how to stay calm as you channel your physical and mental responses into more productive activities:
- Understand what’s going on in your body. Stress and anxiety trigger the “fight or flight” response. Your brain perceives a threat and starts to produce hormones that tell your nervous system it’s time to get ready for action. Yet in many life and business situations, you can’t start fighting or fleeing. Consequently, your body doesn’t get to release these feelings. As a result, you end up with your brain and body in a feedback loop, freaking out. That’s when you say and do things you regret.
- Breathe deeply and slowly. Break the body part of the feedback loop by consciously breathe slowly and deeply. This increases the oxygen in your system, which calms the fight or flight reaction.
- Label the emotions. Break the mind part of the feedback loop by assigning labels to the emotions you feel. This moves you out of the “fight or flight” mode accessing the neocortex which allows you to think more clearly and productively about the issue at hand.
- Re-label your emotions. Next, eliminate the emotional triggers that caused the “fight or flight” response. For every emotion you identified in step 3, re-label it with a positive emotion. For example: fear becomes anticipation; frustration becomes desire; worry becomes concern; dread becomes caution; alarm becomes curiosity and so forth. By re-labeling your emotions, you’re convincing your brain that this isn’t really a dangerous situation but rather a situation you can learn from and enjoy.
- Put things into perspective. Stop over thinking and overreacting by asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? Will this matter in five years?”
- Recognize that people are less focused on you than you think. You may see yourself as the center of attention. However, everyone else is focused on improving the situation not on you. The more you feel judged by others, the more intense your anxiety. Re-direct your mind from yourself onto becoming part of the solution to the problem at hand.
- Magnify your logic. When you bring logic to the forefront, you can maintain the right frame of mind. It forestalls the panic and anxiety as you dispassionately observe what’s really happening. This increases your awareness of the big picture view, seeing all the moving parts of the situation and their possible consequences.
- Take action. Procrastination is the enemy of calm, because it feeds the negative thoughts. Instead, empower yourself by turning anxiety into excitement. You’ll rise above the challenge and see your performance improve dramatically.
It takes time and effort, but you can develop the ability to positively look at each situation as an opportunity to turn anxiety into energy and excitement. I’ve found that there are a number of life pillars or core beliefs that will assist you in staying calm under pressure.
- Have an understanding and practice of mindfulness.
- Practice daily instead of waiting for a crisis to happen. It’s like getting ready for the Olympics – it would be silly to start training the week before.
- Increase awareness through deliberate practice. Practice needs to be specific in order to be effective. For example, when you’re practicing slow, deep breathing, notice your heartbeat, identify your emotions, and so forth.
- Become really good at predicting. Acknowledge that there are situations that make you feel pressure. Identify when, where and how it will show up (know yourself!) and make it part of your life cycle instead of avoiding it.
- Keep your energy focused on the things you can change.
An effective way of learning these life skills is through Neuro-Linguistic Programming. My colleague, Nando Raynolds, and I are starting our fall classes September 15th, so there’s still time to enroll. Learn more about the benefits of NLP trainings and what we’ll be teaching by clicking here. Or contact me with any questions you might have.