How does it feel when you see a strong leader who projects open-mindedness, understanding, and confidence even under the most challenging of situations? Do you long to have that kind of grace under pressure, the ability to stay true to your values in the heat of the moment without saying or doing anything you might later regret?
With practice, it’s easier to achieve than you think – the key is to understand your body’s physiology and learn how to override its automatic responses to stress.
Our bodies are hardwired to experience bad emotions more powerfully than good ones; this negativity bias is how our species survived evolutionarily. When we feel threatened, our bodies immediately release adrenaline and cortisol to prepare us to fight or flee. Our heart races, our mouth dries, and/or our mind becomes blank. It’s not a sign of personal weakness; in fact, it’s our body’s natural response of blood rushing to our extremities to defend against a physical threat.
While this was helpful when we needed to out run a saber tooth tiger, it’s not so beneficial when we seek to remain calm and clear headed during a difficult conversation.
Here are three simple ways you can use your body to signal your brain that you are in fact safe:
- Breathe deeply. A slow, rhythmic breath that originates from your diaphragm engages the rest-and-restore branch of the nervous system. When you perceive a flood of emotions bearing down on you, begin taking deep breaths in and out through your nose, feeling the rise and fall of your belly, and making your exhale twice as long as your inhale. Just three deep breaths will start to slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and clear your head.
- Offer a gentle touch. Physical touch calms you by releasing the feel good hormone oxytocin. To achieve this inconspicuously, in the moment, place your hand firmly around your opposite wrist and hold it in place for at least 20 seconds. If you are on the phone or preparing for an important meeting you can also put your hands over your heart, one atop the other, with skin-on-skin contact being preferable.
- Start moving. Even a short boost of rigorous exercise helps to metabolize stress hormones and releases feel-good hormones. If it’s possible to take a short break between the trigger and your response, or perhaps you want to regroup before your next important meeting, close the door to your office and do a few jumping jacks; run in place vigorously, or take the stairs to your next meeting two at a time. You can go to the bathroom and stand in the Wonder Woman pose with your hands on your hips and your legs spread hip-width apart for at least two minutes, which elevates testosterone. If you have more time, take a walk outside for at least 10 minutes, as the natural light will release serotonin.
When you use any one of these simple techniques you’re pressing the reset button and creating a pause between the stimulus and response. This is when you gain power to override your prewired automatic stress response. Then you have an opportunity to choose a more mindful response.
These tools are readily accessible and always available in the heat of the moment; think of them as your super powers to remain clear, calm, and confident, no matter what comes your way.
Be sure to tune into Communication Untangled Podcast on April 11th to hear Stacie’s interview with Alison.
Alison Deutsch is a Certified Positive Psychology Practitioner and Professional Coach who experienced the challenge of relocating with her young family – four times over a period of ten years, both domestically and overseas. Utilizing research-proven assessment, tools, and practices, that she’s personally road tested through her own life experiences, Alison helps women Move Out of the Stuck – that overwhelm, fear and indecision that crop up around big life changes. Her clients gain peace of mind and newfound confidence in their ability to handle anything that comes their way. www.alisondeutsch.com