Can we learn to respond to stress in a new way?

by David Delaney, MA, CAR, LPC

Scotty, beam me up fast; I’m tanking…

Jim (not his real name), an ad agency executive, is making a campaign presentation to clients and begins to panic. He is aware of how important landing this client is for his agency, which makes him feel even more tense. He can not stop the negative spiral of stress and he now is loosing his natural, relaxed ability to present this ad campaign of which he has great natural passion for and knowledge of. No matter how hard he is trying, it makes things worse.

I’m tap dancing as fast as I can…

We have all had the experience of our heart beginning to pump rapidly, our thoughts racing, and we are jumping from past to future negative scenarios in our mind. Our breathing pattern is shallow and we are not able to stay present to what is happening around us now. The voice is straining, we feel like a big ball of tension, and we are hardly relating to those around us. And what is more, we see no way out. Yikes!

When this happens, in order to bring your self back to composure and reduce your effect from the stress, slow and deliberate belly breathing is your central ally. If you can stay with it, you will soon have access to the creative faculties that can only function when we are relaxed and feeling secure and grounded in the present. You will begin to feel more yourself again.

But don’t wait until the panic strikes…it’s too late then.

A highly stressed situation is not the ideal time to begin your breathing practice. This has to begin long before the presentation takes place. Transforming stress is an ongoing process that must be integrated into an activity from the very beginning. Waiting until the last moment will not be sufficient to ward off stress. Not that you won’t get stressed; but with ongoing preparation for such an event you will have prepared yourself so that when the stress-rush strikes, you are ready to transform it to your advantage.

Deep belly breathing, the opposite of upper chest/shallow breathing, has been shown through research to transform stress into positive energy. Many people who have to speak in front of others unknowningly allow the stress to overwhelm them. They don’t yet know that stress can be transformed into useable energy for their optimal performance.

But won’t I get lightheaded if I breath too much?

Actually, upper-chest shallow breathing, the same as hyperventilation, brings on stress and makes us unfocused. So in a certain way by not incorporating belly breathing in our preparation, we are actually producing your own negative stress states.

When I am overloaded, the last thing I want to have to think about is breathing.

When under stress, the breathing becomes shallow and oxygen is decreased in our bloodstream and so produces confusion, low energy, depression, lack of focus, all the unwanted feelings that make us feel terrible.

Look Ma, no hands…

After some training, our ad agency executive Jim is learning to transform his stress into useable energy that will help him make his presentation, make his sale, and do it in a satisfying, relaxed, and creative manner.

A little inspiration goes a long way…

When we are in stressed environments, be it work or school, the basketball court, the stage, or making that sales presentation, our body goes into a heightened state of overwhelm that can support us if we know what to do with it and have practice at actually having done in already. By remembering to do deep breathing, we send the message to our body and mind to relax and stay present to what it happening now. This allows all our natural aptitudes to come to the forefront without having to try so hard.

Next Step

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(C) 2008, David Delaney.  Not to be used with the written permission of the author.