Whether you're preparing for an audition or a presentation at work, in the middle of an argument with a loved one, facing a fear you're embarrassed about, or worrying about your future, daily living delivers a veritable smorgasbord of stress inducing situations. Life is a constant improvisation requiring deft flexibility and virtuostic creativity at every moment. No wonder we get stressed!
Such situations may lead to a strong urge to defend yourself, get out of there, or become totally passive. The body's "fight, flight, or freeze" response mechanism is an awesome early warning system letting you know when the environment might be overloading your physic circuits. The powerful physiological cues from your body in the form of sweating, faster heart beat, racing thoughts, muscle tightness may indicate that it's time to pay attention. This is your body's "ahem, pardon me, but would be you be so kind and..."Just minus the fake the British gentleman's accent.
Here are three ways to use the "Fight, Flight, or Freeze" response to stress and anxiety to get calm and focused:
2. Fight: Defend yourself against personal attack. When we are feeling stressed, worried, and anxious, we can get mean, bossy, and just plain rude with ourselves. Feeling vulnerable, perhaps dealing with a mistake we've made, our inner critic might decide this is the perfect time to issue a scathing review on our character. Fight back! Shower yourself and your inner critic with compassion. Tell that inner critic that although you appreciate the attempt to tell you what they don't like about your performance, what you need right now is support, love, and encouragement. Research by Dr. Kristin Neff and others, strongly suggests that compassion calms your nervous system down so you can actually respond to life's stressors much more effectively. Self compassion is not self indulgence! Self compassion is spinach for the soul, not a ten gallon tub of peanut butter chocolate ice cream.
If you don't have one, try creating an inner warrior for yourself. An inner warrior willing to defend you from overly harsh criticism with heartening arrows of hope. (Sigh). Practice speaking to yourself in ways that help you cope effectively with whatever difficulty you are facing. Want some specific conversational guidelines? Please visit my blog post called "Effective Self Talk Conversation Guidelines" coming soon.
1. Flight: Leave the scene. Whether you're at work, in the middle of an escalating conversation, in a stressful audition, or experiencing any kind of difficult emotions, escaping the setting for even a few moments can be enough to shift your feelings of stress and anxiety. Move out of the environment for a few minutes into one that is free (for the time being) of stress inducing stimulus. Go for a walk around the block, find some flowers, listen to a favorite song on your Ipod, doodle, take a dance break, give yourself a hug, watch a video that makes you laugh, a video with beautiful imagery, or talk to a friend. Yes, it can be tough to say, "I need to take a break" and you may have to train the people around you. But when only when you are more calm and focused, can you be a positive resource to those same folks.
3. Freeze: Slow down or stop what you are doing. Feeling overly stressed and anxious can cause you to speed up physically and slow down mentally. You can basically turn into a super fast zombie with no brain. Drop what you are doing and take a breathing break. Seriously. If you are running, walk. If you are standing, sit down. If you are sitting, stretch out. Get some oxygen flowing by taking a big yawning breath, stretching your arms, your mouth, and then exhaling out as if you were blowing out a candle. Let your mouth go slack, your shoulders drop, and take a couple of breaths into your belly. Then hold yourself, cross your arms over your chest and gently pat or rub your shoulder. Yes, actually give yourself a little hug. You deserve it for sure!
The next time you feel overwhelmed in the moment try practicing the "fight, flight, or freeze" responses and see how they influence your mood!
Take good care of yourself!