How do you feel before an important meeting or a presentation? Do you suffer from stress and anxiety before The Day comes? How do you deal with it?
How do stress and anxiety manifest for you? Do you have troubles sleeping? Get frustrated and irritated for no good reason?
For me, the anxiety starts as a delicate sensation in my body; I feel a slight tingling just under my lungs. As if a little furry animal was sitting there, getting nervous about what’s about to happen. The feeling is not unpleasant at first, but I know this is the first sign of something important coming. Let it be a problematic presentation, an important call or a meeting with someone I want to impress.
The appearance of this small animal was the first sign before the panic was taking over. My inner voices of criticism were waking up and “helping” me imagine all the possible (and impossible) worst scenarios. That was when the animal was getting crazy; it was much bigger and not sitting still but instead grabbing my throat and waking me up in the middle of the night.
I was still able to perform to the best of my capabilities – which my inner critics were commenting with, “you see, we helped you be at the top of your game” – but the price I was paying was too high. Each instance like that cost me a week of tension, frustration and impatience with my family and many sleepless nights.
Does that sound familiar?
How to avoid it? How to deal with stress and anxiety?
Here are a few things I recommend you to try:
- Notice and Name
Be mindful of what is going on and try to name what is happening – when we name things, they tend to be less scary
What is the emotion that is coming? Where do you feel it in your body? What does it mean?
Give yourself a moment and breathe to get the awareness of what is going on.
- Get the facts right
Look calmly at the situation you are in. What is really going to happen? How difficult is the position you are in? Are your fears justified? How real is what I am imagining?
Write down all the facts that come to your mind – what will happen, what will you do, what you know and what is in your control.
- Reframe – simple and effective
We often feel pressured by an obligation – I have to meet him, It is expected from me, I have to do the presentation, It is my job to do XYZ…
What if, instead of “I have to make this presentation”, you put it as “I choose to hold this presentation because I want to share my work”;
Write down all the “I have to”, rewrite them as “I choose to…. because…” and take back the control!
- Choose a different perspective
Once I do the reframing exercise, I can look differently at what is going to happen. I used to interpret the animal’s appearance as a sign of a threat – and so did my brain immediately switching on the fight/freeze/flight mode.
Now I choose to interpret it as something meaningful that will happen but not a threat, but rather an excitement.
- Use self-empathy process
Self-empathy is a process used in Nonviolent Communication. It is an empathy that we give to ourselves; it helps to bring the calmness and ability to deal with our inner worries before dealing with the outside world.
Four simple questions to ask yourself
- What am I observing?
- What am I feeling?
- What do I need right now?
- What is my request to myself or someone else?
I recommend an excellent video from Marshall Rosenberg – the creator of Nonviolent Communication, and an exercise you can follow to try self-empathy.
- What is the worst that can happen?
This is my absolute favourite question that I often ask myself and my clients – what is the actual worst that can happen? It puts things in perspective, gives it the size and meaning it deserves.
My life so far proved that I survived all the worst moments I was in until today, so why would it be different this time?
With these steps, I can calm myself down, calm my animal down, and even if I occasionally wake up in the night with a panic crawling back, I know how to deal with it.
What are your ways of dealing with stress?