The anticipation of what might go wrong is so familiar. You anticipate how bad you will feel, how “everyone” will know something is wrong and you cannot face the shame or embarrassment of people seeing you like this. The dry mouth, the palpitations, feeling fuzzy. You tell yourself to stop blushing, to stop shaking but it only seems to get worse. You can hear your heart pounding inside your chest, it must look like a cartoon, thumping in and out. Where is the escape, where can you go?
Unfortunately, many people suffer without anyone noticing. They can maintain a calm exterior but on the inside they are quivering. The thoughts drive the feelings and the feelings drive the thoughts.
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What is happening is that your mind has interpreted this event, minor or major, as life threatening. When this happens, the fight or flight alarm is activated. This is a self-preservation tool.
Unnecessary actions such as digestion are slowed as the blood supply needs to go to where action is required i.e. the arms (to fight) and legs (to run away).
Saliva disappears as this is part of the digestive process. Some people experience the need to urinate or evacuate the bowels (all part of releasing unnecessary cargo). Blood drains from the brain so the brain is now in a primal state, not enough oxygen and blood to function logically.
It is about survival, looking for the escape, with no time to weigh up pros and cons. It is a primal response.
How can you interrupt this cycle? By understanding that where your mind perceives a life or death threat, the actuality is that you are afraid of being judged in someway or have to “perform” i.e. focus will be on you and you are afraid of the “judgement”. This is a throw back to being at school and speaking in front of the class and perhaps making a mistake, others laughed and your mind interpreted this as something never to be done again. Each time you had to repeat the scenario, feelings and thoughts went into overdrive, your mind doing its best to free you by wanting you to avoid it. But this is not how to live your life. So therefore, you have to begin reframing the event before you get to it:
- Think about how you will feel at the end of night when you have succeeded or coped well (whatever the situation). What would that mean to you – to have this sense of achievement that something you thought would be difficult was actually okay.
- How do you need to be different for this to work? See your successful self and rewind to earlier in the evening and notice how different you were to the usual fearful self. What is different? Hints: notice body language, facial expression, hear your voice – everything is more at ease.
- Rewind further to the start of the event, hear your self talk – words need to be “I’m okay”, “I feel calm” or even shorter “calm”, “relaxed”. Not what you don’t want but what you want to be and feel.
- Starting from this point, how to make yourself even more relaxed – play some music that eases your mind and body. Tell yourself that are surrounded by people who care about you and should something panicky happen, anyone who would be amused by this speaks volumes for their personality type as the majority of people would want to help and ease your discomfort. Remember those that mind, don’t matter, and those that matter, don’t mind.
These thoughts take great pressure off you and once the fear is being dampened, you are beginning to take control.
Tips for during an event:
- Keep words like “calm” and “relaxed” at the front of your mind. These words need no thinking about as the mind instinctively knows what they mean.
- Keep sipping water. This keeps the mouth moist and mimics saliva.
- Roll your shoulders to relax this (this can be done in the restroom) as this eases tension in the body and produces a physiological response of relaxing the muscles.
- Keep your favorite song playing inside your head as when you focus on it, it will whisk you away to a more relaxed time.
- Don’t forget to breathe.
- When in conversation, instead of thinking of something incredibly intelligent to say, listen to others, observe something about them, earrings, tie and this helps to focus your mind outwardly rather than inwardly.
- Focus on what was good about the night. We are ingrained to focus on the negative but this needs to change.
- Think about what could be better next time and how you would make that happen.
- Thank your mind for helping you. All it ever wants to do is to help you but sometimes its interpretation is not correct. You have to tell your mind what you want, not what you don’t want.
Every night as you settle down to sleep, think about three positive things that happened during the day. Think about how you want to be tomorrow and you will begin to notice that each day you are feeling a little bit better within yourself.
We can spend a lot of time worrying unnecessarily about how people view us and how we will cope in situations that make us feel uncomfortable. It can feel overwhelming at times but it is your mind and your body and you are in control. You just need to know how to do this. Panic and anxiety are conditioned responses and if you experience these, you can also be calm but you have to want this. You are stronger than you think.