An interview is coming up, or you have to pass an exam? You finally have the chance to pitch to that investor or a new client? You have surely prepared enough to give your best, but sadly, it is not the game-changing factor: It is your ability to show confidence there and then, right in that situation. And if you have what it takes, then what would prevent you from doing that?
Well, it is the fight or flight reaction, the survival response of a part of your brain called amygdala to any danger or threat. Your body produces cortisol, aka the stress hormone, which makes your heart pump, your hands shake, your mouth dry up and forget everything you should say in that moment. Clearly, evolution has planned your emotional reactions to save your life when running away from a wild animal, but it is not so handy when facing someone over the conference table.
Especially, because no one wants to make business with an uneasy person. In fact, the naturally selected leaders of a group are the ones who seem to stay calm in a stressful situation, because those are the ones we trust to make the right decision when things get tough.
So here are a few tips that can help you eliminate stress when you really need to give your best.
#1 Stretch out!
Experiments show that just about 2 minutes spent in a stooped posture can increase the cortisol in your body by 15% before a tensed situation like an interview, while the same time spent stretching out or posing in a dominant way can lower your stress level with 25%(!). In turn, most people prepare for an important speech sitting on a chair shrinking over a phone or their notes to look through in the last minutes –which do more harm than good.
Spend your last and most strained minutes with abdominal breathing instead, in an extended pose. Lean back on your chair while sitting, if you must, without crossing your arms, and tend to take up as much space around you as possible without being inappropriate! If you’re worried of people watching, hiding in the loo forming an X with both arms and legs can do the trick as well.
#2 Careful with caffeine!
A good cup of coffee makes your brain release costisol in your body, which is the reason it wakes you up and keeps you going for a few hours. However, drinking too much when you are already stressed out can backfire by making you fidgety and unfocused, especially if you are not a daily consumer of the steamy black substance.
Be aware of the caffeine tolerance level of your body, and pay attention to the time of the day you have to perform. Everyone of us have a peak of costisol level a couple of hours after waking up in the morning, and we usually experience an energy crash after lunch hour, so usually it is better to take an energy booster before an afternoon meeting.
#3 Do some work out!
I don’t advise you to tire yourself to death before the decisive moment, but a little bit of cardio or some yoga can release that hypertension you might feel on the big Day. If you work out regularly your body keeps itself in a well-balanced state, but if you are guilty of skipping gym in the last week and you notice yourself walking up and down in the room, then you can cool yourself down with some exercise. Get down from the cab some corners in advance or go for a walk; it will help you still your thoughts as well.
#4 Repeat your little Mantras!
You might be thinking that talking to yourself is a sign of losing your mind, but it’s not –I do it all the time. Autosuggestion is a way of your conscious mind (namely your prefrontal cortex) sending messages to your amygdala, the part of your brain which is responsible for your fears standing in the way.
Spend a few moments with meditation before leaving home or tune out during commuting, and talk to yourself in a way you would make your best friend comfortable. Confidence is your key no matter if you prepare yourself mentally for a battle or you gather strength from your passion of helping others.
#5 Create your superhero playlist!
Great vibes can blow away your negative emotions, especially if you dance along with them. Build a list of your favourite songs, the ones that fill you up with joy, confidence and energy, and keep them ready for the days when you really need them to put you in the right mood! Listen to them while getting ready or while you are on your way.
#6 Call someone!
If you have someone on your side who has some good words for you before you step in the spotlight –literally or figuratively- or even accompanies you, then you are lucky, appreciate it! Though, most of the time we don’t have such a privilege, and we have to tackle the challenges by ourselves. Still, we can always find someone who is at least free for a call that goes like “Hey, guess where I’m going today…”
There is no person on this Earth so heartless to leave you without a few supporting words after getting to know your great plans, or if there is, you should delete them from your contact list right away. Social bonding increases your oxytocin, which again fights stress, so call your mum, talk to the postman or better yet, hug someone!
#7 Don’t make stress your enemy!
Coping with stress doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate it completely. You will definitely need a lot of energy if you are in a win or lose situation: what you need to do is to keep that energy positive, and turn it into creating something amazing. According to psychologist Kelly McGonigal, stress had been made into a public health enemy lately, but in reality it is only harmful for you if you believe that it is the case. Turn it into excitement, visualize the best case scenario for your day, and stick to it no matter what happens! Come on, you can do this.
#8 And don’t forget to smile!
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