Is performance anxiety getting the best of you? Are you overwhelmed with panic at the thought of competing in front of others? Do your limbs become a bundle of nerves and your stomach a knot of butterflies come game time? We know the feeling. And we’re here to help! In this three-part series, we’re sharing our best tips to help you navigate those meddlesome feelings of self-doubt and fear, and reduce your anxiety when you’re under pressure.
Follow us here on the blog or on Facebook / Twitter for three tips on managing anxiety during the month of April. In case you missed our first two tips, find Tip #1 (Focus on What You Can Control) here and Tip #2 (Embrace Anxiety) here.
Now for the third and final one this month, Tip #3!
Tip #3: When In Fight or Flight Mode, Take a Few Deep Breaths
As humans, our brains are hard-wired to prepare us for unexpected threats or dangers in the surrounding environment. This evolutionary instinct is known as the “fight or flight” response, which dictates your body’s immediate reaction to a perceived threat or stressor. As a result, our brains are constantly scanning our surroundings for these dangers in order to protect us and help us. Thousands of years ago, when a fight or flight response was necessary during, let’s say, an encounter with a predatory animal or a true, serious threat to our survival–not having to wait for the body to prepare to run away or fight the animal was a huge advantage to our species! These days, though, we very rarely encounter true threats to our survival like we might have in ancient times. However, our brains have yet to adjust to twenty-first century living.
Despite the drastically-changed environment we live in now, the brain still relies on the fight or flight response as a survival instinct. Consequently, when the brain perceives a situation as threatening, whether or not it actually is, our automatic emergency response is triggered, leading to a series of physical reactions, such as accelerated heart rate, increased and more shallow breathing, nausea, high blood pressure, sweating, adrenaline and cortisol secretion, tunnel vision, increased muscle tension, and a host of other physical reactions. For instance, if you’re just feeling extra nervous before an important speech in front of a large audience, your brain will likely detect this as a “threat” and engage your fight or flight response automatically. It’s important to understand this reaction when we are anxious because it can help us better manage our nerves.
To help, first recognize your body’s natural response, and then do your best to slow down your breathing and take deep inhales. In doing this, you’re effectively telling your body to turn OFF the fight or flight response, to slow your heart rate and communicate that the perceived “threat” is not actually a life or death situation. That upcoming final exam you’re dreading? The pressure-filled, high-stakes competition coming up? Take a moment to calm your mind and body with deep, slow breathing and tell yourself: “This game is not a threat. I’m going to be ok. Calm down.” Recognizing your body’s response to an immediate stressor or threat can help you react accordingly. Maintaining steady breathing is the most powerful way for you to manage the fight or flight aspect of performance anxiety.