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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

More by this author

Shanice J. Douglas, MSc.

Writer | StoryTeller | Founder, WittedRoots.com

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Last Updated on October 16, 2018

You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

Fear is a valuable thing. It keeps people safe and encourages caution when caution is due. But Fear can also be a limiting factor because not everything you’re afraid of should really be feared.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were afraid of making a decision, making a change or taking a risk?

Did you end up taking that risk or making that decision? Or, did you just stay put and left things as they were? If you did, are you happy with how things have turned out?

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It’s in our nature to like feeling safe–to be in comfort and away from danger. This has always been the case since the beginning of time, when the first humans only knew how to prioritize survival. Even today, many still choose to play it safe and avoid taking risks or taking leaps of faith when it comes to their choices in life.

The Realist and the Dreamer

To put it simply, there are two kinds of people: the realists and the dreamers. The realists are the logical and cautious type of individuals who always think and weigh out the pros and cons before making any decisions–especially the big, life changing ones. Whether it was deciding on what to major in at University, what career path to take, whether or not to purchase that house or car, to go on that holiday, or to splurge on that new watch, the realist thinks long and hard before making a decision, if they even decide. Realists stick to the “what’s next?” plan for the future and may not abstractly consider different possibilities for where life can lead. This is usually because of the confidence they have already devoted to an accepted plan.

Realists have dreams too, but these are more so rooted in ambition, drive and determination. They are goals that have been enumerated for some time. Realists understand that progress requires more than ambition and drive, but also, connections. They feel that life is never worry-free because of survival, responsibility and…paying a rent or a mortgage. As a result, they tend to make safe choices and stick to their comfort of knowing what’s best for themselves.

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Now let’s look at the dreamers. The dreamers are well, dreamers. They have big lofty ambitions, are risk takers, sometimes over impulsive, but they often always challenge the norms of society and dare to think outside the box. This is not to say that they do not have plans or a path that they want to follow. But they are more likely to change the course of their journey through time, experience and by following their heart.

Dreamers derive their inspiration from within. No one else’s perspectives weigh in greatly enough to shift a dreamer’s drive. Dreamers don’t allow their fears to consume them. They may fail from time to time, but they never give up on life or love.

Embrace Fear

So which of the two do you think you are? And is one better than the other? In life, balance is always key. I’m sure you would have heard the saying: “everything in moderation”. Likewise, being a realist isn’t any better than being a dreamer. Both come with their challenges. But what I do know, is that no matter where you are in life, fear should always be seen as a way of pushing you towards becoming a better you.

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Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a type of fear that should be embraced. If you see yourself as a dreamer, then great! Chances are, stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t new to you. Whether it’s deciding to drop out of University to start your own business, moving to a new country on your own, taking that step to ask someone out on a date despite thinking they’re way out of your league, or deciding to quit your high paying job of 10 years to become a DJ. You chose to do that because you knew that you would most likely regret the ‘what ifs’ more than the mistakes (if any) of those decisions.

But if you’ve always been more of a cautious individual (nearing towards being a realist), then I hope you’ll give more thought to embracing the act of stepping out more! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start making hasty or bold decisions such as the ones mentioned. It just means opening your mind to the acceptance that stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something to be hesitant or afraid of.

Managing Fear

In times of stress or discomfort, remember that some of the best things happen when you’re afraid or put in an uncomfortable situation. These experiences can both challenge you and help you grow. Commit to giving the situation a try with your best effort, and keep expectations low to reduce additional pressure. Living outside of one’s comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable. Therefore, the best habit you can foster within yourself is the practice of becoming familiar with discomfort.

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You may be at a crossroad in life and feeling undecided about something, or you may feel like you’re not happy with where you’re at right now. It could be a job that you’re not happy with, a relationship you’re not happy in, or even just knowing that you’re too comfortable with where you’re at that you don’t feel challenged. All of this uncertainty can be traced back to your intentions. What is it that you want? What is it that you’re looking for?

So, What Are You Looking For?

If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or know that you need some sort of change, but you’re just not sure how to take that step towards the change, why not subscribe to our newsletter? Our daily inspiration will help you embark on a journey, and will allow you to find that light at the end of the tunnel you’re searching for.

At Lifehack, we’re dedicated to helping you find the ideal solutions to your problems, and with over 15 years of experience in coaching, we have condensed our knowledge and practices into a highly effective transformational model that you can use to not only help you out of your rut, but to also help you find new and bigger meaning to your life.

Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t always the easiest, but we’re here to make it easier for you to realize your true potential. The time to act is now!

Featured photo credit: Maher El Aridi via unsplash.com

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