Anyone who suffers from stage fright knows that anxiety is not just something you merely think in your brain. Anxiety is something you feel in your body.
But there is more to this mind-body connection than meets the eye…
Three important aspects of the intimate connection between our thoughts and feelings, properly understood, provide invaluable insights into the nature of emotions… insights that we are going to use to our advantage to tame the beast of performance anxiety.
First, the mind-body connection is reciprocal: Your state of mind affects your body, but your physical state also affects your state of mind… so much so that it is not always possible to draw a crisp line between mind and body or to discriminate which leads and which follows.
Second, the mind-body connection is specific: Every mental state tends to produce a particular physical state and every physical state tends to produce a particular mental state.
Third, the mind-body connection is automatic: Some responses are so deeply ingrained… whether by predisposition, habit, or conditioning… that they are triggered without our permission or conscious intention.
Let’s demonstrate the above with a simple and quick experiment: Clench your teeth and clench your fists like you are getting ready to fight. What do you notice?
(In my experience, my entire body girds for battle as I lean forward into a confrontational posture. All my muscles, not just my hands and jaw, but my face, torso, and legs become activated to defend myself. I also notice that my eyes, ears, and brain go into focused alert mode. My visual attention narrows as it scans and my attention crowds out my ability to think about anything else.)
Now let’s try another experiment: Smile a genuine smile and hold it. What do you notice?
(In my experience, I immediately feel better as my entire posture automatically relaxes. My fists and jaw release to a free and neutral state. My arms and shoulders drop. My awareness becomes more diffuse and receptive as my eyes, ears, and brain go into receiving mode… making space to be playful and spontaneous.)
By the way, a smile is SO powerful that it will make people around you smile, relax, and feel better too!
We will apply these important insights in future lessons, but, for now, it is sufficient to appreciate the reciprocal, specific, and automatic nature of the mind-body connection.