We’ve all had those moments, those events, performances in our life when we want to do well. They can feel like high pressured situations. A job interview, a speech, a sporting event, an exam. They are all moments that can trigger anxiety in us all. On occasions they can contibute to performance anxiety which might then hold us back from being our best. Read on for some tips on how we can stop ourselves from losing control and manage the anxiety.
These situations become high pressured because we want to do well, we want to achieve, we want to be at our best. Click here to find out more about performance anxiety
But often we are held back by the emotion that we feel or the beliefs that we have. How many times have you found yourself thinking “I can’t do that”. Or “I can’t stand up in front of those people and speak”. Maybe you think “I can’t reach that sporting goal” or I am not good enough, I don’t know enough. I just simply can’t do it? This is all performance anxiety.
These are all thoughts that are pretty common when we are pushing ourselves. We know the comfort zone is a comfortable place to be. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. But it’s not where we excel. It’s not where we reach our potential. It’s not where we perform at our best. So if we do feel the fear let’s see that as a sign that we are pushing ourselves out of the comfort zone.
So well done for you for pushing yourself out of that comfort zone. The fear is that it’s too much and we will lose control. But there are things that we can do to help us avoid losing control in these high pressured situation
The body has an amazing ability to recognise danger and prepare us to survive that danger. It’s a survival mechanism that has kept us going for so long as a species. It dates back to the prehistoric days when we really were in life threatening dangerous situations much of the time. If we were under threat, the body needs to activate the threat system to prepare the body to survive. The body needs to be flooded with adrenaline so that the body is fit and strong enough to either fight the predator or take flight and be able to flee from the predator. (Click here to find out more about this)
However the part of the brain that recognises danger is so sensitive that it gets activated when it doesn’t really need to be. So yes when we are under attack by a sabre toothed tiger we need it to be activated but when we are going for that job we have always wanted, we don’t really want it to be active then. But when we experience performance anxiety it is.
Now a certain amount of adrenaline can be helpful and it can move us towards having more drive and motivation to achieve. But when it becomes too much the scales are tipped and it stops becoming helpful and can actually be a hindrance that stops us performing at our best.
So the first step is to notice that the situation is a trigger for us. Notice that because we are pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone our brain is often perceiving the situation as threatening. And we are feeling that physically as our body prepares for fight or flight. So it’s ok that we feel that way but there are a lot of things that we can do to change it. Much of this is in how we prepare for the situation. Read on to find out more.
I always remember my History class at school having the statement ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ written on the wall and it’s really stuck for me. So in the weeks before the high pressure situation what can you do differently that could help?
We want to regulate our nervous system and keep ourselves within that peak flow, we don’t want things to tip over and for us to feel overwhelmed and that it’s too much.
I am a big fan of creating little habits that can make a big difference. We know that regulating our breathing is the easiest thing you can do to regulate your nervous system so try these breathing exercises. You can try these when you are feeling ok, perhaps a couple of times throughout the day. You can also use them just before your performance moment.
Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breath out for 5 seconds.
When you are sitting watching TV you could find a square in the room and try this exercise. So on each edge of the square do this action
Breath in for 4, Hold for 4, Breath out for 4, Hold for 4.
This could be a nice one to try just before you go off to sleep, as you lie in your bed you could use your ceiling as a square.
Put a hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
As you breath in through your nose let your belly push your hand out.
We naturally have a negative bias and will tend to focus on all those things that can go wrong. It’s often helpful to visualise what we may expect in the situation in which we need to perform at our best. Often we try not to think about it and might think I will cross that bridge when I get to it. But I don’t think this is a helpful strategy and this is often when people get overwhelmed with anxiety.
Often we are our own worst critics and we will notice our faults and notice all those things that we can’t do yet push our strengths to the back of our minds.
So instead let’s think about the situation we are facing, what strengths do we need to approach and succeed in that situation? When have we been able to perform well in a similar situation? If we are public speaking let’s imagine ourself standing tall and putting our message across. Let’s practice our speech and read it back, let’s record ourselves and see how it sounds.
These are all strategies that I use regularly to help me perform at my best. CLICK HERE to book in for a 15 minute chat with me if you think you would also benefit from some more work around this.
Thanks for reading my blog.
I am Dr Hannah Bryan and I am a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and an EMDR Facilitator and Consultant.
I am really passionate about using EMDR to help people get past their past and live their best lives in the here and now.