We have all seen athletes choke, not perform when they really need to. After months of practice and years of hard work, their skills and experience fail them when they need it the most. The defeat is usually followed by tears and apologies and the solemn declaration of not knowing what happened. A good coach will tell you that performing under pressure is a skill. One that can only be mastered by repeatedly being under the gun.
Choking in a moment of stress can spell disaster for you whether you are interviewing or sitting for an exam. Luckily there are things that you can do to “get loose” when you find yourself in a moment of heightened stress.
Plan your work
Whatever the challenge you need a plan. For an exam decide ahead of time what you need to revise and always break it into manageable tasks. Play the “what if” game. If asked a difficult question, do you have an answer? Nothing eliminates stress like sound preparation.
Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of loss of productivity. When you don’t sleep well, or enough, you simply cannot be at your best. So, prioritise your sleep and be sure to get enough the night before the big event.
Have you ever been in a tense moment, only to exhale loudly when the moment passes? Often, holding your breath at a tense moment is an involuntary response. It is also a counterproductive one. When you are feeling the stress, take a deep breath. Then straighten your back and take another deep breath. Taking deep, full breaths gets the oxygen flowing to your brain and helps to keep you active in the moment.
Be here now
Mentally being present is essential. People are escapists by nature. When faced with a tough situation we will often let our minds play out various scenarios, find a way to place blame elsewhere or simply get lost in regrets. However, none of these alternatives will help in the middle of an exam or when trying to answer a tough interview question.
The effects of exercise on stress are well documented and widely known. What is less known is the effects of physically moving when in moments of stress. Removing yourself from the situation is ideal but often not possible if you are in the middle of an exam or an interview. However, desk stretches or consciously relaxing your muscles can have a calming effect.
Trust your preparation
Just like an athlete, you have been in training for this moment for years. Much of our anxiety and jitters is the result of unresolved fear. Trust that you have done the work necessary to be successful. And if you haven’t, that’s not the end of the world. Very rarely in life do you find that the path to your goals is a straight line. Whatever the outcome, remind yourself that you have put in the work to get to this moment, so trust your training.
Let it all out
Every good coming of age movie has that scene where the lead characters go up to the roof or reach the summit of a mountain and then scream. As cliche as that moment may be, it is an incredibly effective technique. Life is frustrating. Sometimes facing the adversity is the only option. When you feel like the stress of the situation is building up inside, find an outlet. Maybe your outlet looks more like a training montage from a kung fu movie. For others, it's conducting an imaginary symphony as they play a difficult concerto. For others, shooting wads of paper into a wastebasket across the room seems to do the trick. Whatever it is, find a way to get rid of the stress.
In every horror movie, there is a scene where a character, when faced with the monster, freezes. Their inaction usually leads to their demise, or the demise of others. In this way, at least, art imitates life. Stress is the monster. It is an inescapable fact of life that is as present in moments of joy (ask any wedding planner) as it is in defeat. The trick is not to allow it to cripple you when you need to be at your best.
24th April 2017