How to Counter Stress in 60 Seconds
Stress can be an overwhelming force. The human mind is a creative machine; talented at giving us reasons to regret or worry about our lives. Stress is also volatile. Once something stresses you out, that stress can grow exponentially at the sight of new obstacles.
Overcoming stress is one of the most valuable skills you can take from speech and debate. Stress is an attempt to destroy your life. If you learn how to manage it in high school, you’ll enter the next stage of life with a massive advantage. Here are some practical ways to stayed focused when you can feel the pressure turning up.
Tip 1: Breathe
Stress isn’t an abstract emotional problem. It is a physiological response to a threat. It is measurable and manageable. The first step to controlling it is to check in with your body.
Your breathing patterns play a major role in stress management. To practice, close your eyes and let your breath follow a specific rhythm.
I recommend the 4-7-8 technique. Here’s how it works: Let your tongue rest against the roof of your mouth. Breathe in through your nose and out with your mouth. As you inhale, count to four. Hold that breath in for seven seconds. Then exhale deeply for 8 seconds, and repeat.
As simple as it sounds, controlling your breathing patterns can significantly lower your stress. Try this pattern at least 6 times and notice how much more relaxed you feel.
Tip 2: Ground Yourself
Grounding is a mental exercise designed to bring you back into reality. Focus on the current physical sensations you’re experiencing. Your feet are on the ground. How does that feel? Now notice your back against the chair. Feel your shoes on your feet. This calms you down and reminds you where you are: right here, right now.
Next, draw yourself to currently known information. This is a reminder of what is real and what you can do. You have a 2AR after this 1AR. You have two prelims left; they are undetermined. You have evidence in front of you; it counters your opponent’s argument. Stress tries to draw you out by having you focus on the unknown and uncontrollable. Bringing yourself back to what is real allows you to counter the fake narrative of stress and reminds you of the truth that you have time. Time to change things.
Tip 3: Select an Objective
Now that you know where you are, focus on what you can do.
You have a task in front of you. You can either give everything you have to this task and deliver or you can become overwhelmed by stress and falter. To ensure that you rise above, you need to select a specific goal that is within your control.
Avoid intangible goals like “speak well” or “improve”. Here are some strong ones:
“I’m not going to drop a single argument in this 1AR.”
“In my next extemp speech, I’m going to make the audience laugh twice.”
“I’m going to give this next petitioner rebuttal everything I’ve got.”
You’ll want to use positive self-talk to remind yourself of what you’re capable of. Stress tells you that you aren’t capable of succeeding. Remind yourself that you are. Professional athletes have a positive mantra that they repeat to themselves when things feel out of control. This not only anchors you, but builds up your self-esteem, reminding your mind of who you are and what you can do.
The goal is to eschew the past. It is impossible for you to change what happened then. Dwelling on it drains you of the emotional energy you need to thrive right now.
Make your success a decision, and you’ll find that stress no longer controls you.