An important meeting can produce stress-induced anxiety for days or even weeks in advance. When we are in an active state of stress, the part of the brain that reacts to danger is activated and the part that helps us rationalize is suppressed. The part of the brain responsible for memory is also greatly suppressed. All of this means that while we may be able to exert high levels of physical strength for a very short period of time, we also experience brain fog, fatigue, lower concentration, and an inability to communicate clearly.
Other than taking time to be prepared with your content, knowing it forward and backward, here are five ways to calm your mind before a big meeting. This list can also be employed in the days leading up to the meeting to keep stress at bay.
1. Take a long exhale
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and its branches run through all organs. Stimulating the vagus nerve activates your body’s relaxation response. With a few minutes of conscious breathing, you can activate the vagus nerve and take yourself out of fight-or-flight mode, which is common when anxiety is high.
Take two or three quiet minutes with your eyes closed, seated in a chair, and focus on your breath. Inhale as fully yet softly as you can, and then take twice as long to exhale. The lengthened-out exhale is key in calming your heart rate, thus calming your nerves.
2. Feel your feet on the ground
When we feel the ground, we feel stability throughout the entire body. Elevated expectations and the thought of getting up in front of a group can make anybody weak in the knees with that “outer-body” feeling. Whether standing or sitting, wiggle your toes and feel the weight of your feet on the ground (keep your knees soft if standing).
3. Soften your eyes
When we feel tense, our eyes strain, our brow furrows, and next comes the all-too-familiar stress headache. When you soften your eyes, your face and jaw relax and your brows and shoulders soften. Low and behold, your mind starts to relax, too!
Nourish your body through hydration in the days leading up to the meeting. We need water to maintain optimum function of every system in the body, including heart, brain, and lung capacity. And keep water with you at the meeting! Dehydration can set your heart racing and induce a feeling of lightheadedness and dizziness.
5. Practice active listening
In a big meeting, being a great listener is just as important as being a good presenter. Instead of thinking of the next thing you’re going to say while someone else is talking, which is anxiety-producing behavior, turn your body toward the person, feel your feet on the ground, and breathe evenly while you take in what they’re saying. Your mind will remain clear and steady, rather than scattered and unfocused.