Wellness Institute Blog

How to Overcome Performance Anxiety with One Simple Method: Breathe (Part 3 of 4)

Posted by David Hartman  Feb 9, 2015 10:00:00 AM

This is part 3 of a four-part series on using hypnotherapy to help you reduce your performance anxiety. Want to read more? Part 1Part 2Part 4

hypnosis_for_performance_anxiety

In the previous blog posts, we learned that being placed in a situation that requires a high performance (think: a huge presentation to your boss) situation creates stress. Stress creates performance anxiety. But more importantly: it creates adrenaline. And with adrenaline, you can choose to either fight or flight. Since bailing on your presentation isn't an option, it's time to harness that adrenaline and make the best of that stressful situation.

The key barrier is moving from left brain processes (critical thinking) to right brain processes (sensory) that will put us in "the zone"? How can we make that shift?

There are two major parts of this process. The first one, which we present in this article, is called Focused Energetic Breathing,  designed to release anxiety from the body and transform it into vibrant energy available for a powerful performance.

There are eight steps, each specifically designed to move you progressively closer to right brain quiet focus and poise, and take you further away from left brain anxiety, fears, doubts, self-criticism or what we call sympathetic shock. This shock is intense energy not properly channeled and frantically moving through your nervous system. It is debilitating and contributes more to mistakes than to a joyful exuberant performance.

Through these steps, we will now offer you a clear and simple way to release negative debilitating sympathetic shock and transform your performance into a joyful and winning experience. This technique, however, is more than simply the traditional mental rehearsal. From our years of experience in hypnosis, yoga and meditation, as well as performance, we have incorporated a powerful chakra breathing technique called Focused Energetic Breathing.

Along with negative thoughts, the other highly detrimental consequence of performance stress is muscle tension. As our thinking becomes more negative, our muscles tend to get tighter and less fluid.  And not just any muscles, but often the exact muscles that we most need in our particular performance! Singers often get TMJ, sore throats or neck tension, runners may suffer leg cramps, back pain or sciatica, stage performers often get headaches or nausea, and so on. Follow the next steps to move into joyful performance through a quiet mind, relaxed muscles and focused energy.

FOCUSED ENERGETIC BREATHING

Learn to Breathe Mindfully

One of the most powerful techniques for reversing the stress response involves learning how to breathe diaphragmatically. When stressed out and anxious, our bodies have a tendency to revert to shallow, rapid, chest breathing. Doing so keeps us in fight or flight mode, which is sympathetic shock. On the other hand, diaphragmatic breathing is the most efficient way to breathe, and furthermore is conducive to activating what’s called the parasympathetic nervous system response which is our body’s antidote for the fight or flight state of shock.

Process # 1: Pick Your Focal Point

Select a fixed point in the distance slightly above eye level, somewhere that feels comfortable. This point could be on the wall or in the back of the room or performance arena.  Concentrating on this focus point helps to minimize distractions and avoid the temptation to engage in left brain, anxiety-producing thinking. Staring at this spot will immediately place you into a quiet state of relaxation. Begin to breathe in and out gently, while staring at that spot. Feel your eyes becoming heavier and wanting to close down. Just let that happen for a minute or two. Then learn to scan specific areas of your body to release specific tensions.

Process # 2.  Relax Your Face, Forehead, Eyes, and Jaw

As you continue to stare at your focal point and feel your eyes gently closing, now bring your attention to your face, forehead, eyes, teeth and jaw. Notice any tension in this area and bring to mind a calming color, perhaps a light purple. Breathe this color into these areas and notice the relaxation happening. You can actually tighten all the muscles in your face, holding the tension for 5 seconds, and then let go. Feel the relaxation.

If you are visual, perhaps a picture or symbol comes to you that symbolizes this relaxation. If you are auditory, perhaps words to a song or a phrase appear. Repeat those words as you breathe them into any parts of your face requiring more relaxation.

Process # 3. Relax Your Neck and Shoulders

Now move down into your neck and shoulder area. Tighten up your neck, shoulders and back muscles, hold for 5 seconds and release. Now breathe in beautiful vibrant or soft blue colors that brings relaxation into these areas. Do that tightening and relaxing several times as this is a common place people carry tension. As you breathe, allow yourself to experience sounds, songs, images and/or phrases that bring peacefulness.

Process # 4. Relax Your Chest and Heart Center

Next, move into your chest area and invite a vibrant emerald green to fill up your chest and heart center with a peaceful loving feeling. Continue to breath into this area until all the muscles relax. This is sometimes referred to as the heart center. As you breathe into it, feel the love or admiration for your sport, your audience, your partners or teammates, or your trainers to emerge into awareness. Let an image such as lush green foliage come to you or perhaps the words to a song that feels appropriate here.

Process # 5. Relax Your Mid Section and Solar Plexus

Now move into your mid section and breathe in a bright yellow color directly into your solar plexus, right between your rib cage. This is your center of integrity. Feel your internal courage growing with each breath as the golden yellow of the sun brings in strength and courage. Perhaps words to a song or a visual picture comes to you here as you continue to direct your breath into your solar plexus.  Integrity connotes consistency, just as a bridge is uniformly strong yet flexible on one side of the river, all the way across the span to the other side. Along with integrity, breath in courage, noting that courage brings in strength and these qualities carry you through even the most challenging of times.

Process # 6. Relax Your Navel and Stomach

Now focus your breath into a very important area of your body which is your navel, stomach and buttocks area. If it helps, place your hand over your navel, inhale and tighten this whole area. As above, hold 5 seconds and release. Breathe in and out several times and then breathe in the full range of autumn colors, orange and gold. Let words or phrases come, such as “I feel my deep and quiet power within.” Breathe in symbols and anything that creates a strong sense of confidence and centeredness here. This is called the dan tien or tan t'ien area in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan and qigong, the energy center where Chi energy flows. Here you can access your grounding

Process # 7. Relax Your Lower Trunk and Legs

Now bring your attention down to your thighs and lower legs. Repeat as above and let any colors, words or images come to you for muscle relaxation. Repeat affirmations such as, “I am stable on my feet and move gracefully like a -----------------.”

PROCESS # 8. Relax Your Feet and Feel Grounded and Connected with Mother Earth

Now most importantly, bring your attention to your feet as they are your place of grounding. Breathe all the way down and then tighten up your toes and feet, hold 5 seconds and then relax. As you relax, picture or feel yourself grounded and connected with Mother Earth. Perhaps you can feel the soft grass or soil under your feet. Just melt into the earth and feel supported by her soil or grass. Or perhaps you enjoy standing in the water of a stream, lake or beach. Allow the water to wash over your feet and relax your whole body. Being solidly grounded is most important for your performance.

Continue practicing this energetic breathing several times a day for a week. Allow your own  colors, words or phrases, pictures and sounds to come to you. Don’t censor anything. If you notice negative thoughts such as self criticism or judgments trying to interfere, just treat them like small children you are teaching. When a young child tries to run into the street, we may have to bring them back to the curb several times and say, “Now you stay here. It is dangerous out in traffic.” We use patience with our negative thoughts just as we do with children. You can say to a negative thought, “You just go outside and play today. Thank you.” Or you can visualize the unwanted thoughts it in a thought bubble and watch it float away like helium filled balloons.

Read the follow up process in PART #2: Energetic Mental Rehearsal.