Presentations. Interviews. First dates. Athletic undertakings. They’re big moments and they can be stressful.
While anxiety is sure to ebb and flow as the hours till the long-awaited event tick down, nerves inevitably build. To be consumed by at crunch time, however, is counterproductive to your preparation and can spoil all your efforts at the last minute.
But fear not, grasshopper. Here are five science-backed ways to keep calm, cool and collected during big moments.
“Instead of last-minute LinkedIn-stalking your interviewer’s entire career history, which you should have done and memorized (most of) anyway, relax and listen to music on your trip to his or her office.”
1. Get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation strongly impairs memory and learning. But until recently, the actual reasons behind these deficits remained unknown. A study by researchers from the University of California, San Diego in 2014 looked at 55 sleep apnea patients’ blood cortisol levels every two hours for 24 hours. Researchers found that elevated cortisol levels best predicted cognitive dysfunction, which may explain why those who are sleep-deprived exhibit poor memory and concentration abilities—they have elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
Takeaway: Get a minimum of eight hours of sleep before your big moment, and to avoid high stress that prevents you from falling asleep, perhaps…
2. Listen to music.
While music can be a distraction for some people, melodious sounds actually encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain, as would eating a delicacy, or looking at or smelling something appealing. Research by Dr. Amit Sood, a physician of integrative medicine with the Mayo Clinic, indicates that wandering minds are unhappy, as they often focus on the imperfections of life, but music has the ability to bring us back to the present moment. Being present is often a more positive experience, allowing you to become inspired and refocus—and it only takes 15 minutes to a half-hour of listening to regain concentration.
Takeaway: Instead of last-minute LinkedIn-stalking your interviewer’s entire career history, which you should have done and memorized (most of) anyway, relax and listen to music on your trip to his or her office.
3. Be conscious of your glucose intake.
Specific foods release glucose more quickly than others. Those that release glucose slowly and sustainably are ideal for your optimizing your brain’s functionality. Research published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience shows that about 25 grams of glucose circulate in the blood stream, which is about the amount found in a banana. A slower, steadier glucose level means that our energy levels will last longer, before we crash. So foods like bananas and oats will make us better focused and boost our levels of attention.
Takeaway: Eat breakfast to kick off your big day, and be weary of what’ll keep you alert and what’ll likely make you crash before your presentation even begins.
4. Practice mindfulness.
In a Florida State study, mindfulness proved to be a source of inspiration. Researchers looked at two groups of students—one that read about how to properly wash dishes and another that read about the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water and the feel of the dishes. The group that read the latter reported a bigger decrease in nervousness. The study concluded that the ability to consciously sustain attention on an object without being distracted by fleeting cognitive or emotional experiences actually improves executive functioning and emotional regulation. And individuals may reap positive benefits—and perform better—by intentionally engaging in life’s everyday activities.
Takeaway: Go into your presentation exuding enthusiasm, like whatever it is you’re presenting is the most important thing to you at that moment. It’s the only thing you have to do right then and there, so it should be anyway. Give your first date a real, solid shot and go to those intramural playoffs with the attitude that you don’t want to be anywhere else. When you give your all and engage with every fiber of your being, you greatly increase your sense of confidence and odds of success.
5. Keep organized.
Keeping an organized space whether you’re at the office, studying or working from home can actually keep you less distracted and thus more focused. Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published the results of a study they conducted in The Journal of Neuroscience that relates directly to uncluttered and organized living. They found that physical clutter also clutters your mind and prevents you from fully focusing. Having your ducks in a row, or your documents for a big day at work, is vital.
Takeaway: Think about organizing your documents electronically before your big day, so you can simply pull them up on your phone or tablet and not have to worry about the physical mess or traveling with a ton of unorganized paperwork that’s easily misplaced or damaged. Any hard copies you have can be scanned onto a computer and organized into labeled files on your device.