Secret #3 – Relaxation is a skill
Every year scientists and doctors find new connections between serious illness and stress. Stress is a genuine problem and it’s not just in your head (it’s in your heart and your stomach and your joints and it can take years off of your life). Good health and longevity depend on reducing stress in everyday life.
So that’s the little lecture on stress and health – I’m sure it’s nothing you don’t already know. If you’re like me, even risk of death isn’t always an effective motivator, so how about this: We’re not as good at what we are doing when we’re stressed and that makes us look bad. (Looking bad – now there’s an effective motivator!) This is especially true of speaking, which depends on focused concentration, clarity and energy. You may be able to “wing it” at work on a light day, but try giving a presentation when you can’t concentrate. It’s miserable for everyone – not just you – and generally a complete waste of time (taking time from other things, leading to more stress!).
You may have a long, proud history of well-earned stress, but anyone can learn to be more relaxed if they approach it as a skill worthy of development. It’s like weight training – you start light and work your way up. You become strong.
A challenge to developing this skill is that people often think relaxing means not doing anything – that nothing can be accomplished while in a relaxed state. This is, simply put, nonsense. It’s as if the idea of being relaxed and that of being lazy (or standing around in sandals, embracing trees) have been inextricably bonded. As a result of this inaccurate association, both are shunned, and with equal fervor, by people who wish to be “taken seriously.”
Because of demands at work and home, stress is almost unavoidable. We often feel that being really stressed out shows the world how hard we’re working. The more stress: the more admirable the effort. This is all fine and well until you find yourself completely lost at a very important meeting and realize that YOU ARE THE ONE TALKING.
So, how do we learn to relax? It’s important to try several methods to find ones that work best for you. With my clients, I usually begin with breathing exercises. These are the 5 lb. weights. They keep the mind focused on the task at hand, and nothing else – surprisingly difficult! I recommend practicing some techniques regularly to become familiar with the feelings of focused relaxation, and others that are best done on an as-needed basis (e.g., to calm nerves on the spot.)
I use many methods to help my clients diminish stress for greater focus, confidence and presence in their communication. It never ceases to amaze me how effectively these simple exercises can change all aspects of their experience and performance.
Please feel free to use the Relaxation Recording I created for my clients and friends to assist in making relaxation a part of a regular routine: Silverman Speech Consulting Relaxation Exercise