It happens each fall with amazing predictability. A college freshman signs up for speech classes and realize for the first time that he suffers from a debilitating case of stage fright. While the task of making public presentations may not be unnerving to some, this prospect is terrifying for others.
Here’s how it usually plays out for these unfortunate souls. During the first speech, with terror on display for a classroom full of peers, the speaker begins to stumble through the intro, hands shaking, brow beaded with sweat, and all words cease. He stands frozen. He somehow manages to finish, and in the end looks up to see the entire class staring directly at him. He is mortified.
Although this can certainly be one of life’s most embarrassing experiences, it can also be an incredible learning experience. The saving grace is often provided by the professor, who recognizes the results of the disastrous first attempt at public speaking. One of the most helpful pieces of advice that a person can get in such a situation is to breathe. Just breathe from your diaphragm.
So what does it mean to breathe from your diaphragm? How is that different than normal breathing? Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique that consists of contracting your diaphragm (a muscle located just below your chest) while you breathe. This relatively simple technique involves inhaling through your nose into your stomach rather than chest.
The best part about diaphragmatic breathing is that it can be used in many situations, not just to combat stage fright. After all, how many people actually give public speeches in a given day? But, stage fright is essentially an influx of anxiety, and if this process works to alleviate the public speaking stress, it stands to reason that the same process would work with common stress and anxiety.
You see, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which automatically slows your cardiovascular system and relaxes your muscles. In doing so, it stimulates internal organ blood flow and allows more oxygen to circulate through your body. The increase in oxygen and blood flow all but guarantee that you’ll become more relaxed.
Unlike most mental tricks or even exercise routines designed to alleviate anxiety, this technique is almost too easy to mess up. Give it a try!