Shaking knees. Quivering voice. Clammy hands.
Sound familiar? Whether it’s a job interview, a presentation for work or a joyous occasion such as a wedding or graduation, there are plenty of situations that can trigger our anxiety and turn us into nervous wrecks.
Fortunately, there are also many science-backed ways to calm your jitters and get through your next big event without feeling like you’re about to be sick. Here are some helpful strategies to ease your anxiety and get back in control.
- Relax with a Weighted Blanket – The next time your anxiety meter is off the charts, try snuggling under a weighted blanket. It may seem strange, but the gentle pressure of these weighted wonders can help you relax before a big event. Weighted blankets use the power of deep touch pressure, a technique that uses gentle pressure to simulate the feeling of being hugged. More specifically, this sensation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” response.
- Focus on Your Breathing – When it comes to easing anxiety, few techniques are more effective than simply focusing on your breathing. Study after study has shown that breathing techniques such as deep breathing and breath control can induce tranquility by invoking the relaxation response and putting you in a meditative-like state. Try experimenting with different breathing techniques and find ones that appeal to you. Just remember to practice them when you’re calm so you know how to do them when you’re nervous.
- Use the Power of Visualization – Visualization is another way to help ease anxiety and make you feel calm before a big event. This technique involves using mental imagery to make yourself feel relaxed — sort of like daydreaming. For example, you can picture yourself at the beach, listening to the cry of seagulls and imagining the sand between your toes. (See? You’re already more relaxed.) If a sandy beach doesn’t do it for you, consider coming up with your own scene. For best results, pair your visualization with a breathing technique.
- Allow Yourself to Be Anxious – When your anxiety starts creeping in, what is the first thought that pops into your head? You probably tell yourself to calm down, right? But repressing your anxiety rarely works. In fact, it often makes it harder to relax because you’re now putting even more pressure on yourself. Instead of trying to fight your stress response, accept that you’re feeling anxious. Try telling yourself that your stress response is going crazy because you’re excited about the opportunity. When you accept and reframe your anxiety in this way, it loses some of its power.
- Get a Good Night’s Rest – We know — easier said than done, right? But the truth is, getting a good night’s sleep is key to helping you manage your anxiety. Research has shown that being sleep-deprived can lower your ability to cope with stress, making your big event seem even more overwhelming. Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep by creating a soothing bedtime ritual. For example, you could take a warm shower, make yourself a cup of chamomile tea and read a book to wind down. You might also try wearing a weighted eye mask to bed. Aside from blocking out annoying light, these soothing masks apply gentle pressure to help you relax.
- Listen to Music – Starting to feel anxious in the hours leading up to your big event? Build a music playlist and start listening to your favorite songs. Music is a highly effective stress reliever that has a powerful effect on the brain. Indeed, experts at Johns Hopkins say that listening to music not only lowers anxiety, but can also boost memory and alertness — something that may prove helpful when preparing for a big test or a work presentation.
- Challenge Your Anxious Thoughts – Anxious thoughts are often irrational and don’t make much sense. When we allow these thoughts to fester in our mind, it makes us even more anxious. One way to combat your negative self-talk is by using a technique called thought challenging. Frequently used in cognitive behavioral therapy, this technique involves asking yourself questions that challenge your anxious or negative thought patterns. For example: Is there substantial evidence for this thought? What would a friend think about this situation? Will this matter a year from now? By asking yourself unbiased questions, you can change your irrational thinking and get back in control of your mind.
- Fuel Up – Eating is probably the last thing you feel like doing before a big event, but nibbling on something can help you feel less anxious. Going too long without food can stress the body, making you feel anxious. A few hours before the big event, try to eat a protein bar or toast with almond butter.
- Reduce Tension with Progressive Muscle Relaxation – Have you ever experienced a sore jaw or a stiff back when you were stressed? When you’re anxious, your brain sends signals to your nerves to prepare for a fight, causing your muscles to tighten. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that can help reduce this tension to help calm yourself down. To practice progressive muscle relaxation, focus on a group of muscles, starting at the toes. Tense your muscles as you breathe in and release the tension when you breathe out.
- Connect with Nature – Before your big event, try to get outside — preferably, in a forest or another semi-secluded green space. Numerous studies suggest that spending time in nature can significantly improve mental health by reducing anxiety, stress and depression. Research shows that being in nature can also make you kinder, boost your creativity and reduce attention fatigue. So, put down your phone for a while and get out there.
Being anxious is never fun, especially when you have to be on your A game for a major event. But with these helpful tips, you can better manage your anxiety and maybe even use it to your advantage.