How to significantly reduce nerves in under 1 minute
When I was in primary school, I competed in hurdles at the State Championships at Olympic Park.
I remember feeling really nervous right before my race. My heart was pumping fast in my chest and I had a sick feeling right in the pit of my stomach.
While standing on the track at the start line, getting ready for the gun to fire, my dad’s advice would be replaying in my mind.
“Take some big deep breaths beforehand”
As a result, I’d gulp in huge breaths of air and hold them in for longer than normal. Then I’d let them out slowly and deliberately.
It was a ritual I always did, but I didn’t fully appreciate the reasons why this was such good advice at the time. I also don’t think I executed the technique properly either.
But, now I know better and given it can help reduce ANY sort of nerves, I wanted to share that with you, so you can use it in the public speaking arena.
FYI – In case you’re interested to know, I did calm my nerves enough to win the race, so it must have helped somewhat! But that’s not the focus of this Newsletter, so let’s dig into how the simple act of breathing can help you reduce the symptoms of nerves when you’re about to give a presentation.
THE LINKAGE BETWEEN EMOTIONS AND BREATHING
Did you know that the way you’re *feeling* dictates the *way* you breathe? Also, in turn, the way you breathe impacts how you feel. So it causes a vicious cycle!
If you’re feeling:
- Happy or relaxed – your breathing will be slow, deep and rhythmic
- Anxious or stressed – your breathing will be short, fast, and shallow
We alter our breathing in stressful situations as a coping mechanism to prepare for the fight or flight response. However, this in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system, as the body instinctively thinks it needs to get ready for action. This then releases the stress hormone cortisol and increases your heart-rate.
But, because we generally can’t physically run away from a presentation (even though that can be our first impulse…!), that stress hormone hasn’t got anywhere to go, and it ends up exacerbating the feelings of nerves.
Don’t quite believe me!?
LET’S DO A LITTLE EXERCISE
Whilst reading this article, stop for a short moment and drastically increase the pace of your breathing. Breathe in short, sharp, shallow, irregular breaths for 30 seconds and see the effect it has on your body. Can you notice that you start to feel more anxious? That your heart rate goes up? That you start to feel anxious!?
I know I did when I tried it.
However, the good news is that because the way we breathe can impact on how we feel, we just need to be conscious of the way we’re breathing and breathe deeply.
THE BENEFITS OF DEEP BREATHING
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body in the days, hours or minutes leading up to a presentation, or even during it. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then in turn sends this message to your body which gets to work decreasing the physical symptoms you’re feeling.
Studies have shown that deep breathing will:
> Lower your heart rate & blood pressure
A study in 2013 of patients with hypertension who practiced a specific type of yogic breathing each day for 3 months, noticed a significant reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.
> Reduce stress hormone & help you think clearer
In a study published in June 2017 in Frontiers in Psychology, people who attended 20 deep breathing sessions over 8 weeks had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and significantly higher sustained attention rates than the control group.
HOW TO BREATHE DEEPLY
There are actually lots of different types of deep breathing techniques out there. I personally prefer Belly Breathing and feel it’s an easy one to do as an anxiety beating technique for public speaking.
So here’s further detail on how you can do it.
Sit down (even lie down) somewhere comfortably and quietly
- Breathe in deeply through your nose for 3 secs
- Make sure your *belly* expands (Note: your chest shouldn’t move)
- Breathe *out* deeply through your mouth for 3 secs
- Make sure your *belly* empties (Note: your chest shouldn’t move)
Note: Focus on your breathing. One of the key elements of relaxing in this moment comes from shifting your focus from stressors to deeper, calmer rhythms — and having a focal point is essential for this.
Results can be seen in as little as 1 minute and whilst deep breathing can provide temporary benefits in the moment, it’s best to make it a daily practice.
Why? If you practice it regularly it will help your body recognise what you are doing and be more responsive.
HOW TO MAKE IT A DAILY HABIT
Find another habit you can piggy-back on top of, that will act as a trigger.
Research has shown that having a trigger for it during the day means you’re much more likely to stick to it long term. You will then decide whether you want to do this Deep-Breathing exercise either before, during or after this trigger. E.g. You might decide to do it after you’ve had breakfast, whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, or before bed.
Don’t over commit, as it will end up making it too hard to sustain.
Just 1 minute can result in great benefits if you’re consistent with this practice.
To summarise, the way you breathe directly impacts how anxious you feel ahead of a stressful event. So, to get control of your nerves, you must take control of your breathing.
Next time you feel the physical symptoms of nerves when you’re presenting, take some deep breaths. Or better still, make it a daily habit.
“Take a deep breath” is not just a saying. It’s backed by science and will help you to calm down and think clearer. Which are all essential if you want to present with clarity and confidence!
Did you find this Article interesting? If so, I’d love to know what resonated the most. Please comment below!
Emily Edgeley is a Public Speaking Coach for the Technology industry. Since 2017 she’s run over 100 group coaching sessions, coached more than 200 people privately and formally supported first time and experienced speakers at 10 Conferences, covering 1000+ people across the globe.
She’s on a mission to help anyone in the Tech arena learn how to speak with clarity, impact and confidence. So they can share their ideas, boost their brand and start to enjoy public speaking.
She’s also a regular podcast guest, a writer, a single mum of one, a massive dog lover and a fan of cryptic crosswords.
Emily Edgeley | PUBLIC SPEAKING COACH | www.emilyedgeley.com