I just passed the licensing exam for my profession (LCSW), earlier today. It was pretty awful, I must admit, 4 hours, 170 questions, many of which you had to choose the best possible answer amongst multiple good ones. It's something I have been actively working towards for the past 6 years of my life, and a long-term goal of mine since I majored in psychology over 10 years ago. I'm not gonna lie, it was quite a stressful process, and there were many moments before and during the exam where I wasn't sure I would pass. I've had similar experiences in which I felt terrified, and needed to keep my cool, like the three years I competed in the National Yoga Asana Championship for California. The yoga competition is a 3 minute demonstration on stage, in front of a silent auditorium of people in which you demonstrate balance, strength, flexibility, and grace. It's terrifying, but also a wonderful experience. Below are my 5 biggest tips to help you through a major presentation, deadline, exam, wedding, job interview, fill in the blank:
- Deep breaths. When your heart is pounding, and you feel like you could pass out, take long slow deep breaths. Close your eyes even, take deep breaths and center yourself. I used this tip many times throughout my yoga competition and my exam, and the breath truly works. Deep breathing calms the nervous system down, lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure. It works guys, and we know it works because it feels good and we can measure the positive physiological changes deep breathing has on the body.
- Put things into perspective. I like to picture myself on my deathbed and this usually helps me to put everything into perspective. At the end of my life, I don't think I'll look back and regret bombing a presentation, failing an exam on the first try, or fumbling a competition. What I would regret is the time I spent worrying about the event or beating myself up afterwards for not living up to my standards. Before our yoga competition, one of the judges/yoga gurus gave all the competitors a pep talk. She reminded us that we have been practicing yoga before the competition, we will practice yoga afterwards, and that the competition was simply 3 minutes to be in the present moment. It wasn't going to change our lives. We were going to continue practicing yoga regardless of the outcome. It made something that felt so big, feel a bit smaller. Putting things into perspective can really help calm the nerves.
- Be in the present moment. The last tip leads me into this one. Try to be in the present moment during your major event whether it be an exam, a presentation, a competition, etc. Tip #1 can help. Whenever I found my mind wandering out of the present moment, that's when I noticed my suffering increase, or my performance decrease. Try to be in the present moment. It will make everything go smoother.
- Practice Gratitude. I noticed my nervousness, my stress, my anticipation, my mind calmed when I thought of the things in my life I felt grateful for. You can't actively feel grateful and scared at the same time. Gratitude fills your heart up, it calms the mind, it improves mood, it attracts more great things into your life. Try gratitude the next time you find yourself in fear or anxiety.
- Tolerate Discomfort. Part of me knew I would feel a sense of unease until the end of my competition or exam. Sometimes, what we fight we strengthen, so accepting a certain level of nerves can help to keep them from becoming even more intense. Fear and stress can be a good thing. My fear of failing the exam motivated me to study even more the days leading up to it, so embrace what you can of your fear and use it for good not evil ; )
Hope these tips were helpful, use them the next time you have a major life stressor coming up and leave a comment underneath of any tips you have that would apply here.