Relax! It’s not as complicated as you think

Has anyone ever said to you, ‘just relax’ when you were on your way to an interview, a competition, first date, or executive meeting? Well, if they have I ‘m sure you had the same reaction I’ve had and, besides the ‘yeah, right’ that momentarily took your mind off how nervous you were, it had very little positive impact on you.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I actually tried an activity penned by Paul Haider, radio show host of Winning the Stress Wars and author of Relax for Success. His advice rang true to me once I actually tried it.

Notice I said “once I tried it” – It wasn’t that I didn’t want help, I just didn’t believe it would be helpful.

I’ve found that I like really complicated answers to my problems. Hey, if I couldn’t figure it out by myself, then it must be a very complex problem, right?

This pig-headedness comes from years of working with C-suite corporate folks, neurosurgeons, and clinical psychologists. These are seriously smart people but most of them are also very stressed out. If these successful people couldn’t figure it out, how was I supposed to?

The truth is, people often believe simple techniques won’t work, so they never try them. But maybe a complicated explanation will help. Here is a more scientific explanation using brain mechanisms.

Whenever we have a thought (any thought) we create chemicals in our brains that rush throughout our bodies and relay our emotional state and feelings. These emotional states actually change our biochemistry, which change our physical bodies. For example, if your thoughts are “oh crap! I’m not prepared” (even if you are prepared but the judge in your mind is telling you otherwise) brain chemicals will go crazy creating large amounts of cortisol. This is because, as our bodies become filled with fearful or negative thoughts, our brain fills itself with this very powerful chemical. Cortisol lowers our immune system, opens the door to disease and shuts down the brains ability to problem solve, which is imperative for any high stress situation (think job interview, competition, date, or meeting). Cortisol production also allows bacteria and viruses to take over and make us sick.

Are your eyes blurring over yet? I’ll take a break.

This information can be used at cocktail party: if anyone tells you that you cannot create something from nothing, tell them about how thoughts create chemicals in your body all the time…and from thoughts matter is created in the form of chemicals – which changes the body, you will impress them. Thank Paul Haider for that tid bit as well.

But how can relaxing help you? Okay, well, back to the chemical story:

Essentially the same process occurs but a different chemical is released: Dopamine (and others but let’s focus on this important one). Dopamine is created when you relax. It effects behavior and cognition, motor activity, motivation and reward, sleep, mood, attention, and learning. It lowers our blood pressure and heart rate and works directly with emotion and memory via the amygdala and the hippocampus. High levels have the effect of increasing cognition and our level of creativity and imagination too – necessary for creative problem solving, thinking on your feet, humor, etc.

Just as importantly, attention, memory and analytical ability are all negatively impacted when dopamine levels are low. Scientists have also found that social anxiety often occurs with low dopamine – not good when you need to be calm and positive during an important event. Whew, that’s the end of the chemical story.

So, how do we increase dopamine and decrease cortisol? Well, the simple answer is:

Breathe and sigh loudly (do this in private if you work in cubicle land or live in a small home – others could get the wrong idea).

Meditate. Sit down and get comfortable. Turn off your phone and don’t face your computer. Breath deeply; if a thought enters your mind just tell it to “leave a message” and go back to your breathing. The most successful leaders swear by this short activity before any stressful event.

Smile. Find something that made you happy in the past. Then allow that memory to fill you and smile. Dopamine loves smiling.

Laugh. Keep a copy of your favorite comic by your side (Dilbert, Family circus, Zits, Calvin and Hobbs, the New Yorker) and read it before your important event. Genuinely laugh out loud.

Be Silent. Take 30 minutes to be silent right before the event; it will clear your mind of negative feelings. It helps if you have a meal just before too.

Make peace with yourself. Lastly, do not study or practice right before the event. You are as prepared as you are – no more, no less. Give yourself permission to focus on the parts you are confident about and let the rest go.

In other words, r e l a x.

To buy Pauls book go to:


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joice Joker
    Dec 01, 2011 @ 17:13:30

    It is not just to let the rest go. If you are able to sit within your weaknesses and go really deep into it and stay for as long as it takes, something will change. Try it. Writing about it or reading it doesn’t create the change, only doing it does.


  2. Mary Lu Higgins
    Dec 01, 2011 @ 20:17:29

    Now this latest blog shows just how smart you really are! Bravo and Best from Mary Lu


  3. the other Raylene
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 08:35:46

    ” You are as prepared as you are – no more, no less.”

    yep. Sounds about right. 🙂


  4. Arline
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 21:05:12

    I so needed to read this to reiterate what I’m trying to accomplish! My mind is constantly going and my family and friends are always telling me to relax. So, I finally took their advice and went to a yoga class this past week. I’m addicted! You know as well as I do how crazy Business Proposals is – well, the next day after yoga I had such clarity. People were going crazy, office doors were slamming because people were mad and yet I maintained sanity by breathing and tuning all of it out. Any suggestions on what to listen to on itunes? I love that I can block everyone out by putting my earphones in and playing music. 🙂


    • shakeupyourlife
      Dec 04, 2011 @ 08:40:57

      I’m happy the article hit home for you Arline. And yoga is THE BEST exercise out there in my humble opinion (well, BESIDES dance, hahaha) Music is so personal and it really matters if you’re looking for instrumental or ‘with words’ types. Do you want pumping, energetic, or soothing, calm tunes. On twitter I just found a great guy from hawaii with amazing piano and other instrumental sounds. It’s calming music…When I’m writing I need quiet mostly but in Proposals, with all the hullabaloo going on maybe you want the added filter of sound? Let me know what you are looking for specifically and I give you a few specific suggestions.


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