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Fight Or Flight Makes Right

Pinnacle Performance Company   Volume 2 Issue 8

Fight or Flight Makes Right 

How Stage Fright Keeps You Safe

Betrayed by their bodies.

That is how many describe the experience of stage fright. Over the centuries, our brains have learned how to cope with a variety of stimuli and situations. One of the strongest reactions we can experience is what is commonly known as “fight or flight.” Simply put, it is our body’s automatic response to a perceived threat. Across cultures, continents and the animal kingdom, the reaction is uniform—whether it is prey fleeing a predator or you presenting at a high stakes meeting.

Unfortunately, while human civilization has evolved, our biochemistry remains firmly rooted in the Stone Age. While we’re thinking “boardroom,” our bodies are screaming “bail out!” What causes such an acute reaction? And what exactly is happening to make us feel so nervous? Red Carpet has the answers.

It may be odd to think that our brains are actually trying to do us a favor when we experience stage fright. Our mind has identified a situation which poses a threat, and it wants to protect us. Unfortunately there is no discrimination between physical and emotional threats, so we react staring to down a room of executives as we would to being chased by a hungry bear. The expectations of professional decorum make it difficult to take advantage of the body’s stress response.

There are multiple triggers as your brain preps your body for action.

Breathing quickens and heart rate accelerates. To ensure the body has enough oxygen to power the expected increase in activity, the lungs and heart go into overdrive. This is why your heart pounds, your face flushes and breathing becomes difficult.

Muscles tense and sweat glands start pumping. These are primarily for the “fight” half of the stress response. Tension provides more power for hand to hand combat and more sweat means an increased cooling factor.

Butterflies, the jitters and altered perception. These are primarily for the “flight” response. The brain opens the adrenalin and epinephrine floodgates, and our bloodstreams fill with energizing hormones. It feels good to move because our brain is screaming, “run!” Increased alertness means changes in how we perceive the passage of time.

In addition, our body starts to shut down non-essential functions: digestion slows as blood is diverted elsewhere, salivary glands become inhibited (dry mouth) and bladder and bowel muscles slacken (the pervasive feeling of having to go to the bathroom).

The most important thing to remember while all these symptoms are manifesting is that you always feel more nervous than you appear. That may be small consolation when your heart is pounding and you feel like vomiting, but many expressions of stage fright can be surprisingly subtle and nearly invisible, especially in large venues. Once your mind realizes the threat isn’t immediate (hopefully a few minutes into your presentation), it will reduce the stress response and symptoms will mostly disappear.

Stress responses manifest in the body but originate in the mind. The battle to tackle stage fright is mostly mental and can be largely won with proper preparation combined with the other techniques Pinnacle has given you. Remember that reduction of symptoms, not elimination, is the goal, and you’re halfway toward being a more calm and confident communicator.

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