Think of a time when you experienced a stress-provoking incident. Perhaps you were in a car accident, or had to give a speech in front of a large audience. Did your heart begin to pound? Did your breathing rate increase? Perhaps your muscles tensed up or you started to perspire. These changes are the response of the sympathetic nervous system.

A stressful situation can trigger our bodies to release stress hormones causing hormonal and physiological changes. This effect, known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, evolved as a survival technique allowing us to quickly respond to life-threatening situations. Faced with a life-threatening situation the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released into the bloodstream preparing your body to fight the aggressor or flee to safety.

used with permission from Pixabay
Source: used with permission from Pixabay

In this state, your brain processes what it perceives more quickly. Hearing and vision become more acute. Heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure increase. Blood vessels dilate to enhance blood flow to your muscles. These are just some of the changes that come on fast and strong preparing you to tackle the challenge at hand. Some people describe superhuman ability and courage, due to these changes, when faced with a life-or-death situation.

Not only can bad or scary events set off a stress response, but good and/or exciting things can be stressors too. Imagine your name being called as you walk across the stage to receive your diploma, or the how you felt on a first date, or the first day of a new job.

If you are one of the millions of people who fear speaking in front of a group of people, you know what I am referring to. When your brain detects a stressor, such as public speaking, flying, financial issues, conflict/confrontation, traffic jams, and family difficulties, it can set off the same response as when encountering an emergency or dangerous situation.

Common symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart and breathing rate
  • Changes to vision
  • Shaky hands, legs, and voice
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweaty and cold hands
  • Nausea; butterflies in your stomach

CHALLENGE RESPONSE

There is another type of response, known as the challenge response, that occurs in stressful situations that are not as threatening. Similar to fight-or-flight response, our body prepares us for the challenge we are faced with. Adrenaline levels, heart rate and breathing rate increase, but different hormones are released resulting in a less fearful state. The hormones released in this state are typically referred to as the “feel good” hormones.

The challenge response gives you an energy surge and boosts your ability to perform under pressure. Concentration, confidence, and mental clarity are enhanced. Athletes, surgeons, actors, and performers may refer to being in the state as being “in the zone."

Faced with a challenge – a job interview, opening night in Broadway, a big game, a difficult exam – the response can help improve your ability and performance.

Many professional athletes, actors, speakers, and performers experience performance anxiety but have learned how to shift this anxiety into the challenge response. It takes a lot of practice to see a threat that overcomes you and approach it as a fun and meaningful challenge. 

The good news is you can apply performance psychology and effective techniques for training your brain to trigger the appropriate stress response and achieve peak performance.

Performance Psychology

Performance psychology deals with three major areas — Anxiety, specifically anticipatory; Concentration and Focus; and Behavior Modification.

ANXIETY

You have to be relaxed to be able to control your mental state if you want to perform optimally. The mind needs to be at ease, while the body is alert.

In dealing with anticipatory anxiety, teaching internal methods to control the autonomic nervous system through such internal methods as hypnosis, HRV (Heart Rate Variability) breathing, and TFT (Thought Field Therapy) a form of Energy Psychology. In conjunction, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) helps to re-educate how you think about the event.

CONCENTRATION AND FOCUS

You’ve heard the expression; don’t take your eye off the ball. Concentration is one of the most important skills required to performance your best. It takes a lot of work to actively focus on the task at hand while passively ignoring external and internal distractions. Concentration can be improved through training and practice.  Learning how to sustain focus is another critical skill. There are various methods that can enhance focus including hypnosis, neurofeedback and visual imagery.

BEHAVIORAL MODIFICATION

The third key area is behavioral changes. You must have the ability to easily adapt to new environments and situations without affecting your performance. Performance psychology helps teach the essentials of adaptability, spontaneity, and creativity, especially under pressure.

Effective Techniques

In my practice, each client is seen as an individual with a unique set of issues. Therefore, the method(s) of will differ depending on the individual.  However, these are some common methods used to achieve peak performance.

NEUROFEEDBACK

Neurofeedback is a safe, evidence-based method for retraining the brain. Through this type of brain training, a person can improve concentration and focus and reduce anxiety by adjusting his or her own brainwave characteristics by teaching the brain to regulate brainwave activity more effectively.

HYPNOSIS

Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that is highly focused, yet deeply relaxed. It is a learning state that allows us to overcome many mental, physical, and psychological problems.

Relaxation is a part of hypnosis, yet it is an entity in and of itself. It is impossible to be tense and relaxed at the same time. Through the use of progressive relaxation, and specific breathing techniques, you are able in a conscious state to relax your body and control of your body.

Visual Imagery requires picturing behavior in your mind in a relaxed state, which can then modify the actual behavior and emotional part of the behavior. Through your ability to picture, taste, touch, and move, you can use this relaxation technique extremely effectively in peak performance, pain management, and stress management.

MEDITATION/MINDFULNESS

Meditation and Mindfulness are life skills that provide access to inner peace. Both rely on the ability to be focused entirely on the present moment which can lead to increased happiness and reduced stress and anxiety.

Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a means of healing and restoring energy. Meditation allows you to take your mind to a whole new level, becoming one with your body. It clears the mind of any obstacles impeding mental clarity.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation (or a state of mind) that promotes self-awareness, monitoring emotions and thoughts without judgment. It is well-known as a method for reducing stress but has long attracted interest from athletes and performers. One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is an increased ability to focus.

Practicing these two ancient techniques to regulate your breath, focus your attention, and gain a new perspective will help tackle life’s challenge.

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

Changing the way of think about stress and stressors can make a big difference in your life. Chronic stress over long periods of time is certainly unhealthy, but some stress an actually improve your health and help you rise to the challenge at hand.

When it comes time to give that speech, pay less attention to why your hands are shaking and the butterflies in your belly. Focusing inward will escalate your anxiety.  Instead, accept it and practice the proper techniques to conquer your fears and be the best you can be!

There is a Way!®
— Dr. Diane
www.drdiane.com

Copyright (c) Dr. Diane Roberts Stoler,  September 8 2017

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