Coming to the table at Jinek is exciting. Add to that your table guests Diederik Gommers and the Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and the stress is complete. Stress is not just an emotional experience – it is primarily a physiological process. Although stress can sometimes also motivate, in rare cases it locks things up. That is called the stress response.
We also know this stress response as fight, flight, freeze. That process is triggered when your brain experiences a threat. The amygdala (your brain’s security system) sends a message to the hypothalamus (control center), which in turn triggers a series of hormones to enable your body to fight the threat. That’s when you start to feel the effect: a faster heartbeat, troubled breathing, tingling… All meant to enable your body to run away very quickly.
But that is of no use to you at Jinek.
The threats of modern life are not always physical. Stressors such as an exciting performance lead to a disproportionate physical response that is not very useful for the situation you are in. The embarrassing performance of Famke Louise was an example of this. A few years ago we also saw director Michael Bay have a frozen moment on stage when his technique let him down (and read how to avoid that here).
How do you un-freeze?
Fortunately, your body also has a process of applying the brakes, but unfortunately, this only takes effect after ten to fifteen minutes when the threat is gone. With a number of techniques, you can initiate or accelerate this process earlier.
1.Use your breathing. The body sends messages to your brain via the speed and quality of your breathing, among other things. Where a quick inhalation activates your body, a quiet exhalation provides a calming effect. Earlier we wrote an article here about how you can use breathing in your preparation.
2.Work the physical energy out of your system. Since most stressors these days are no longer physical, your body is left with all kinds of energy that it cannot release. Simpler: your body wants to run or fight, but since you stay put, you also stay with that energy. One way to get rid of that is to become very active. Just walking up and downstairs, some push-ups can help to give that energy a place.
3.‘Vaccinate’ yourself, of course, is a great breathing tip. But what good is it if you can no longer come up with that because of your freeze response? That is why it is valuable to prepare your mind and body for these kinds of situations. So if you know that you are sensitive to such situations, it helps to practice the aforementioned breathing exercises more often. Visualizing the situation in advance can also help prepare your body for the situation so that it is less likely to overreact.
4.Reframe the stress. This one sounds a bit crazy. But stress is not always negative. In fact, there are few things in your life that are worthwhile, but that does not involve stress. Career, study, entrepreneurship, relationships, parenting… they are all accompanied by a good dose of stress. A Harvard study shows that people who know how to use the feeling of stress give better presentations in difficult situations than those who know how to chug away from the stress. So be aware of your physical response to the stress situation, accept it, and use it.
A small footnote: These are, of course, tips on how to deal better with incidental stress during tense performances – stress that almost everyone experiences. If you suffer from chronic stress, anxiety or panic attacks, it may be better to speak to a professional in this area.
Debatrix is a leading expert in (remote) persuasive communication. Based in Europe, we offer executive coaching, persuasion consulting and trainings on TED-worthy presenting, how to influence and inspire, storytelling, debating, framing and dealing with difficult questions.