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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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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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