Want to feel calm and do the right thing?
In my coaching work, I often help people who wish they could feel less panicky, less anxious and more confident.
I read a piece in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago by columnist Caitlin Moran. She had an excellent observation: “Panic and anxiety will lie to you – they are gonzo, malign commentators on the events of your life. Their counsel is wrong. You are as high, wired and badly advised by adrenaline as you would be by cocaine.”
Wow. Strong words. But I agree with her sentiment. When you’re anxious, you may be just as prone to bad decision-making or behaviour as when high on illicit drugs.
She goes on to say: “However much it feels like you are approaching an event – an exam, a conversation, a decision, a kiss – where, if you screw it up, the entire future will just burn to hell in front of you and you will end, you are not.”
Got that? No matter how much it feels like something is life-threatening, in 99.99 per cent of situations, it probably isn’t.
So what can you do? She advises: “You will never, ever have to deal with more than the next 60 seconds. Do the calm, right thing that needs to be done in that minute. The work, or the breathing, or the smile. You can do that, for just one minute. And if you can do a minute, you can do the next.”
Or, if you want some research-based advice, try one of the following:
- Label your feelings. State out loud how you are feeling, for example “I am experiencing feelings of panic and anxiety.” Yes, simply putting a name to what you’re feeling has been proven to take the edge off.
- Breathe twice and count to ten. Plenty of research shows that people who deliberately slow down their breathing and distance themselves from their emotions (for example by counting slowly to 10) feel less anxious. It may sound like overly simple advice. But you have to do it to get the benefit!
- Make a fist and squeeze your fist together. Again, this is backed by experimental evidence. In one study, sports people who were taught this trick performed significantly better than people who did nothing.
The point of many of these brief techniques is simply to disrupt the automatic process of anxiety leading to paralysis or ineffective performance. It almost doesn’t matter what you do to try to stop your fear or panic in its tracks. The point is simply to do something, anything. Decide to take control and you can feel calmer.