You must give a presentation or have a difficult conversation with someone, and you are feeling stressed.  Or something just ignited your anxiety- a fearful thought or feeling.  You notice your body’s physical responses – your heart beats faster, your muscles tense, chest tightens, your breathing quickens and your stomach churns.  What can you do to help yourself calm down when you are freaking out?

Remember that when your mind perceives a threat, the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system activates.  It prepares your body for action, since for thousands of years this is how human beings survived.  So, your thoughts may be, “Hey, this presentation is scary because what if I forget everything and embarrass myself?” and your body is like, “I got you- we are going to fight them or get outta here.” Those aren’t options so to calm your body and concentrate on your content, you need to get control back.  And how to do that?  Activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of the autonomic nervous system that works to help relax the body, and allows your mind to focus.

Stephen Porges, PhD, author of the Polyvagal Theory, scientist and professor of autonomic physiology, suggests a trick to help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.  It has to do with the breath.  Our breathing changes when we are in an excited state.  We breathe more quickly and take longer on our inhale than our exhale so that more oxygen gets into our bodies to fuel the muscles needed to engage.  When our body shifts to a restful state, the breath slows and the exhale is longer.  So, by deliberately prolonging the exhale by a beat, we are sending a message to the body to engage the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, sending the body into a more restful, recuperative state.

To calm yourself, focus on your breath and take longer on the exhale by a beat or two.

If you’d like, try practicing this now:

  1. Notice your breathing, your inhale and exhale, without judging it.  
  2. Next time you exhale, take a moment longer to complete this breath before you inhale again. Do this for a few breaths.
  3. Resume breathing as is comfortable to you.

You can do this exercise before you intend to speak or during your talk, or in response to a trigger.

If you are speaking, you could finish your sentence and then continue to exhale, or on your next breath, make your exhale take more time by adding a word or two onto your sentence.  For example, if you were planning to talk to someone about a difficult topic, you may originally plan to say, “So do you have a moment to talk about that fight we had?” and extend it to “So do you have a moment to talk about that fight we had last night?”  

Try practicing this exercise a few times to familiarize yourself with the experience.  You may be surprised at how this simple activity can help you calm down.

17821 E. 17th Street Unit #260
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 941-2257

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.
%d bloggers like this: