An upcoming presentation, salary negotiation, or client deadline can easily put our heart rates up. We've all felt the effect whether it be sweaty palms, stomach flutters, or shortness of breath.
I often get anxious in any situation where I'm in the spotlight. I'm not alone; anxiety is the most common mental illness in Canada, and affect one in four Canadians in their lifetime. I've learned through advice (thanks, Mom), counselling, and online resources that anxiety can be kicked to the curb; and more importantly, calmed in those moments where you need a quick fix.
Here are three exercises I use to slow down my heart rate, decrease the flutters, and remember to find the fun in anxious moments:
1. Take a deep breath: Remember when you got hurt as a child and your mom would say, "Take a deep breath"? That's the kind of breathing I'm talking about. Breathing might seem obvious, but many of us actually hold our breath when we're anxious. In fact, shortness of breath is a common symptom of generalized anxiety; a form of anxiety caused by excessive worry about everyday events and activities.
An exercise to try: There's a simple breathing technique that has worked for me over the years whether at home or at work:
- Find somewhere quiet to sit and close your eyes. Take a deep breath, inhaling slowly through your nose for five seconds. Then, exhale slowly out of your nose for five seconds. You can do this exercise once, or repeat as many times as you need.
2. Smile at yourself: It might sound weird, but it works. It was an instant mood booster while I was working in my first agency job.
I've always believed that how we walk, sit, and stand, is reflective of how we feel. Think about it. If you walk fast, you're rushing or something is on your mind. If you sit with your arms crossed you're not open to a situation or conversation. If you smile you'll exude friendliness and confidence. When you consciously pay attention to how you feel, the parts of your brain that regulate thoughts about yourself will start to change.
An exercise to try: Wherever you are, find a room with a mirror and take a quiet minute for yourself.
- While standing in front of the mirror, look at yourself and crack a smile, Then, say something nice to yourself in the same way that you'd talk to your best friend. "Go get 'em!" or "You're a confident, badass woman." Say something positive and repeat it a few times. It might feel a little weird at first, but it's guaranteed to make you giggle.
3. "Stay in your head, you're dead." This quote comes from life coach Tony Robbins, and it struck a chord with me because I'm someone who always fills my head with too many thoughts. Renowned psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema has described our memories and thoughts as an intricate web of associations; one idea that triggers a thought forms another and another, making overthinking an easy habit. To get to the root of your anxiety, pay attention to what you're saying to yourself; you might find that you're being overly self-critical.
An exercise to try: Write everything in your head onto paper.
- When you wake up in the morning, pull out a piece of paper and pen and write out everything in your head. Keep going until there's nothing else to write. Don't read what you wrote so you don't judge what you're thinking or feeling. Once you're done, crumple up the paper, and throw it in the garbage, and get on with your day.
How do you handle anxious moments? Share what works for you in the comments below or on Twitter (@YouInc)