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How to Stop Your Mind from Going Blank in Any Stressful Situation

How to Stop Your Mind from Going Blank in Any Stressful Situation

I wasn’t breathing.

At least that’s what it felt like to me. My body was seemingly paralyzed, my mind futile in its attempts to once again get me moving. There is very little else that I abhor more than raising my voice in the presence of a group, no matter the size. Right now, what I need is to quiet the noise of the five thousand thoughts racing through my mind at the same time.

Who am I to think that I could do this?

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What do I know anyway?

What if I embarrass myself in any number of possible ways? What then?

Needless to say, this was not the time to freeze up. This presentation was a significant portion of my final grade, and without it, all of my other hard work would have seemed to be in vain. The anxiety continued to rise.

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It’s so often to have a blanked mind under pressure.

Have you ever found yourself in that situation? Drawing a blank at the most inopportune times, your wealth of knowledge almost instantly depleted under the watchful eyes of your own high expectations, is unfortunately not uncommon. According to research by the …….

Of course, while a mind-blank may be the last thing that you want to have when you have that important interview, or that crucial presentation, but the typical response of near-hyperventilation can make an already-awkward situation even more uncomfortable. The brain is telling you to run, but your body is most likely frozen in place, so what is there to do. You are the opposite of calm, and at any moment, you might feel like you are about to explode.

Many of us are unable to remain calm in situations like this, because we find ourselves cloaked in a sea of uncertainty and a huge scarcity mindset. We are convinced that, not only are we now horrible individuals unable to complete a simple sentence much less a simple task, we are supposed to expect only one possible series of events and only one particular outcome. One mistake we make during this situation, is to remain silent, doing and saying nothing, while your mind races with self-deprecating thoughts of your ability.

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Luckily, there are quite a few strategies that are worth a try to help yourself remain calm, and reclaim your mind from the blankness of a high-pressure situation. Below, you will find three, simple-to-implement strategies outlined.

Always remember to breathe, always.

As silly as it may sound, while your body is already on autopilot when it comes to the whole breathing thing, a few deep breaths never fail to help you become grounded in the present. Deep breathing[1], which can be thought of as individually manipulating the rate, pace, and depth of each breath that the body takes, is a long-known strategy for regaining calm in not-so-calm situations. The benefits are derived from the parasympathetic nervous system[2], the integral body system that is the headquarters of rest and relaxation for your bodily functions. It helps to diffuse the effects of the fight-or-flight response[3] that tend to be linked to high pressure situations, and allows you mental space to start unraveling your racing mind.

Here is a quick one that can be utilized in particularly stressful situations:

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  • Breathe in slowly through the nose for a relaxed count of 5.
  • Hold that breath gently for another relaxed count of 5.
  • Breathe out slowly through the mouth for a relaxed count of 5.

Repeat this as many times as necessary to begin feeling calm and present.

Know what you want and aim for realistic expectations.

Now, I am not suggesting that your standards for academic, professional, and/or social excellence should lowered. Rather, in times of high-pressure, when your anxiety and panic may become easily triggered, give yourself the opportunity to reframe your position on what you expect from the situation. For instance, your important presentation may possibly place you on track for a career boost, but going blank right in the middle may find your progress stalled.

Instead, before your presentation (or any other high-pressure situation), first, remind yourself of why you are about to do what you are about to do. Secondly, allow yourself the space to consider possible outcomes anywhere on the spectrum, from worst case scenario, to best case scenario, to could-have-been-more-fireworks-maybe-but-I-still-did-my-best, and release your attachment to any one.

You can turn your negative self-talk into something positive.

Think about a time when you believed that the stakes were particularly high for you. You prepared as best as you could to perform well in this situation, yet, the outcome was not exactly what we imagine. Now, one of your first statements to yourself may have been, “I’m so ______!” Insert any number of self-deprecating remarks here. While you have a right to be upset, after all, we have been nurtured to place a high-value on high-expectations, negative self-talk can derail your further progress[4]. It can possibly fan the flames of an already volatile mental and emotional situation, so it is essential to reframe it in order to remain calm under stress.

You could either do the following mentally, while in public and feeling the strain approaching, or when you have time to do a quick five minutes of reflective journaling[5]:

  • Think of at least five of the most common negative statements that you can recall saying to yourself in the past.
  • Give yourself a few seconds to think about why you resort to those particular words or phrases.
  • After your quick reflection, think of a solid opposition to the original negative statement. Instead of highlighting what you may believe to be an obvious flaw, allow yourself the space to flip the script. Thinking about your circumstances and your effort can help with this particular section.
  • Repeat as often as necessary to begin feeling grounded in your abilities, despite what a looming fear of failure may be telling you.

Reference

[1] PsychCentral: 3 Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety
[2] ScienceDaily: Parasympathetic nervous system
[3] Harvard Health Publications: Understanding the stress response
[4] Witted Roots: How to Change up Your Habit of Negative Self-Talk
[5] Witted Roots: Reflections Journal

More by this author

Shanice J. Douglas, MSc.

Writer | StoryTeller | Founder, WittedRoots.com

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Published on April 16, 2019

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

When was the last time you did something for yourself?

Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

So how can you make that happen?

Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

Listen to Yourself

The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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What is your purpose?

Have you ever thought about this question?

Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

Seek Out Continuous Education

Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

It’s Super Practical

Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

“Knowledge is choice.”

Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

Habits Make Your Time a Priority

How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

Your Well Being Comes First

We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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