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Exam pressure, deadlines, job interviews and presentations can all make you feel like a nervous wreck.
Just when you need to remain calm, your heart's racing, your palms are sweaty, your voice sounds strange and your mind goes blank.
Well, with a little help from neuroscience, here are three easy and reliable techniques you can use to literally keep calm and carry on, no matter what.
Of course there are other things you can do to combat stress but this trio of tips will hopefully give you instant calm.
First, a breathing exercise.
I want you to take a deep belly-breath through your nose for five seconds.
Hold it for a second, then push all the air out through your nose, slowly, counting to five.
Repeat a few times and you'll feel calmer.
For centuries, yogis and Buddhists have used controlled-breathing techniques like this to gain the upper hand over the nervous system, and science is beginning to understand how it works.
Research has identified a specific network of neurons in the brain stem called the pre-Botzinger complex that regulates breathing and communicates with other parts of the brain.
Under stress we tend to breathe very quickly as our body prepares for danger, which is useful if you need to run away but not if you're about to speak in public.
The good news is that by breathing deeply and slowly you can change the message your brain's receiving from "danger" to "all is well."
So the next time you feel panic rising, use deep breathing through your nose to force your body into a state of calm.
And the best thing is, no one will notice, not even your audience.
Now you're ready for the humming.
A single note, your favourite tune, literally anything will do.
Why?
Well, studies in how we regulate heart rate have shown that humming can stimulate one of the most important parts of the body you've never heard of—the vagus nerve.
It was named 'the wanderer' in Latin because it emerges from the brain and meanders up and down the body like a superhighway of communication, connecting the brain to organs like the heart, lungs and stomach, voice box and ears.
A 2013 study of choristers showed that singing, humming and mantras all help keep the heart's rhythm in step.
So the next time you feel your heart racing, sing a song or just hum a note and let your own wanderer nerve restore calm.
The final tip is to focus.
When you're busy, it's tempting to multitask, but if you want to stay calm and actually get stuff done, don't.
Scans show your brain can only do one thing at a time.
When you do two things at once it has to switch between them very rapidly and gets overstimulated and floods your body with stress hormones.
By working the way your brain is wired and doing one thing at a time, you can quickly go from feeling overwhelmed to calm.
So break your task down into small parts or steps, circle the one thing you need to do next and forget about the other tasks until their time comes.
This is sometimes called "process thinking" and is used by sports coaches to help athletes focus.
Doing just one thing at a time with your fullest attention keeps your mind in the here and now and is a great habit to develop.
So next time you feel panic rising, stop and remember to breathe, hum and focus.
Let us know how you get on.
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How to keep calm under pressure | 3 quick tips | BBC Ideas

2584 Folder Collection
Annie Huang published on March 5, 2020    Annie Huang translated    adam reviewed
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