The Long Lonely Walk, Are You Ready For It?

As a crisis negotiator, there is possibly no worse feeling than walking towards a person who is standing on a high structure contemplating suicide. As you walk towards the person, your mind begins to race - "What shall I say?", "How will I start the conversation?", "What if I say the wrong thing?", "What if they jump?"

My stomach would tighten, I would start to feel slightly ill, my palms would sweat, sometimes my knees would weaken and time always seemed to slow down. It was a terrible experience and certainly wasn't a solid platform upon which to undertake a negotiation from.

I still get that same feeling now before presenting in front of people, not to the same extent of course, nevertheless the nerves are engaged and the senses are heightened. And there is always that nervous feeling in the stomach to deal with. To an extent, we all have that same feeling before undertaking something that we are uncomfortable undertaking - public speaking, a job interview, or presenting to colleagues.

I learned a quick way to control my nerves which might be helpful for you. Breath in, count, and exhale.

When we get nervous, our fight or flight response kicks in which immediately activates a number of reactions - our breathing becomes short and shallow, our heart rate rises, our mind goes to the right side of our brain where creativity sits, adrenalin and cortisol is pumped into our blood. And there is much more going on so it is no wonder that we have trouble focussing.

Because the fight or flight response is both a physical and psychological reaction, it makes sense that you need to engage the same responses to control it. Here are the three steps that worked for me and for others I have shown it to;

1.      Take a very long, deep, slow, (quiet), breath. Breathe deeply into your stomach so that you completely fill your lungs with much needed oxygen. We only use a third of your lung’s capacity in the fight or flight response so it is important to fill your lungs completely.

2.     Hold your breath for at least 3 seconds, 4 is better. Holding our breath slows our heart rate and reduces slightly our blood pressure as a consequence.

3.     As you hold your breath, count to three in your head. This is the part that really works. Counting in your head introduces the psychological element, it directs your brain back to the left side where logic is waiting.

Slowly release your breathe. As you do so you will feel more relaxed as oxygen goes into your blood and up into your brain allowing it to work more efficiently. Plus, you have slowed things down to better control the situation.

Some say that you should count to 10, others that you should take a deep breath. Both are right but only if you combine the two strategies. The 4-4-4 technique (breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds) works well provided you remember to count to 4 inside your head while holding your breath.

Next time you get nervous, try it and see for yourself.