Episode 74

5 Physical Techniques To Stay Calm Under Pressure

Published on: 22nd May, 2023

Faithful on the Clock is a podcast with the mission of getting your work and faith aligned. We want you to understand Who you're serving and why so you can get more joy and legacy from every minute spent on the clock. Thanks for joining us and taking this step toward a more fulfilling job and relationship with God!

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In this episode...

5 Physical Techniques To Stay Calm Under Pressure


Work is notoriously stressful. This episode of Faithful on the Clock provides some tactics for physically calming yourself down so you can think and pray clearly during tough times on the job.


[00:04] - Intro

[00:37] - Work is not always easy, which means most of us have to find a way to manage stress in a safe way.

[01:06] - By far the best tactic for managing stress is to give it to God.

[02:05] - Most of us are still working on our faith, and it’s normal for doubt and overwhelm to get the best of us.

[02:27] - Stress and anxiety are very physical things. God, as the Great Scientist, is revealing facts about the body to help us regulate ourselves. Taking a bottom-up approach to self-regulation is often more effective because stress can shut down the rationalization centers of the brain.

[04:37] - Technique #1: Yawning

[06:12] - Technique #2: Square breathing

[08:25] - Technique #3: Widening the gaze

[09:46] - Technique #4: Self hug

[10:54] - Technique #5: Pelvic floor relaxation

[12:11] - Bonus Technique: Brain dump with a cross off of uncontrollables

[13:38] - Recap, reassurance of the Holy Spirit’s intercession

[14:49] - Prayer

[15:43] - Outro/What’s coming up next

Key takeaways:

  • The best way to deal with stress is by giving it to God. But many of us are still working on our faith, and sometimes, from the neuroscience perspective, we need to work bottom up rather than top down. This means that we calm the body before we try to rationalize.
  • Tactic #1 – Yawn. Yawning triggers the vagus nerve, which connects to the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Tactic #2 – Square breathing. This tactic leans on the idea that the parasympathetic nervous system connects to breath and heart rate. If you can slow and control your breath, avoiding rushing or freezing, you often can calm down.
  • Tactic #3 – Widening the gaze. Looking to your periphery helps trigger the vagus nerve and communicates to the brain that there is no threat. It runs counter to the natural response the body has to create tunnel vision in times of danger.
  • Tactic #4 – Body squeeze hug – Muscles can get stuck in tension when you are stressed. Forcing them to contract and then completely relax can send your brain the signal that it’s OK to let go.
  • Tactic #5 – Pelvic floor relaxation – The pelvic floor usually tenses during times of stress. Bearing down will relax the pelvic floor and trigger the vagus nerve to lower the heart rate.
  • Bonus tip – Do a brain dump. Then cross off or reframe what you cannot control. Pick just one thing you CAN control to take action on.


  • Select one of the tactics from the floor to practice for 5 to 10 minutes a day.
  • Over the next two months, add the other strategies into your daily practice.

What’s coming up next:

Modern offices are obsessed with productivity and measure it in dozens of ways. But what does it really mean to be productive? Faithful on the Clock Episode 75 calls the definition of productivity into question to help workers rethink what’s useful in their professional and personal lives.

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Welcome to the Faithful on the Clock podcast, everybody. I’m Wanda Thibodeaux, your host, and this is the show where every blade of grass on the lawn grows to get your faith and work aligned. Today’s episode I hope will be really helpful to a lot of you out there, because I’m serving up some ways for you to manage anxiety and stress on a physical level. We all know work can bring that stuff on, so let’s learn how to handle it from a Christian perspective. Let’s get to it.


All right. So what I want to do today is just put it right out there that work is often not a walk in the park. I mean, I hope at least some of you have jobs you love, and if you do, that’s awesome. But many of us, I know, even if we know our work has a purpose, there are things about the work that just get us really worried and worked up. And that’s just not a good situation to be in all the time. It’s not healthy. So you have to find a way to manage that stress in a safe way.


Now, if it’s not already obvious from my previous episodes, I’ll just be really clear that I do believe that by far the best way to deal with stress is to go to God and give it to Him. Episode 56 that I did a while back, that was all about how, you know, the business world says to a warrior and be strong and conquer everything, whereas scripture says to let God be strong and conquer for you. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your worries on Him, because He cares about you.” And this is not to say that He’s going to remove all your trials from your life, okay? It’s just to say that when you know God has your back in those situations, you can walk through those situations with absolute confidence. That’s why David was able to get out there and slay Goliath. He knew that He didn’t have to be worried about the battle because God was going to win it on his behalf. And of course, God was with David and David did conquer the giant to save Israel.


But here’s the thing. Most of us, you know, we’re still working to get to a David level of faith. It’s just still really hard to not let all kinds of doubts creep in. And so sometimes, our human nature gets the best of us, and we get overwhelmed even when God’s sitting there waiting for us to hand everything over. And sometimes we just need to back up a second and kinda say, “Woah. I gotta cool this body He gave me down so I can even process what’s going on.” I mean, I’m telling you, I’ve had times like that in my life where I was just so panicked, I mean, I couldn’t even eat a frosted mini wheat, let alone get through a Zoom call or send something to an editor or whatever it was I needed to do.


Which leads me to my next point. Stress and anxiety are very physical things. Scientifically, researchers know, it releases hormones like cortisol, your heart rate elevates, you get sweaty, your pupils dilate — all kinds of incredible responses happen in the body when you’re under pressure. You might have felt some of those things going on before. And I have always seen God as the Creator of science. He is the one who designed us. He knows how all this stuff works and He made it that way for a reason. And even though I absolutely want you to pray and use that as much as you can, I think He also is giving us all of this scientific revelation to help us when our body doesn’t wanna cooperate. You know, researchers are learning that stress shuts down the parts of the brain responsible for rationalization and decision-making, so you often really can’t think yourself out of everything. You can’t just tell yourself, “Oh, don’t be stressed.” And just telling yourself God is there, I’m gonna be honest, it’s true, but it’s a rationalization, and it can be really hard to access that when everything is all over the place, and even if you can, sometimes the feelings are so strong, the physical responses just overtake everything and you keep feeling bad anyway. So from a neuroscience perspective, instead of working top down in the brain, where thoughts or cognition run first, you gotta work bottom up and start with the more primal physical stuff. You gotta calm the body before you can rationalize well. So with a quick caution that this is by no means medical advice and that it’s smart to talk to your doctor before you start any kind of method, let’s go ahead and talk about some little physical tricks you can use to stay calm under pressure.


So the first technique to stay calm is something I can guarantee you’ve done before. It’s a basic yawn. Yeah, you heard me right. It’s a yawn. So let me explain this. There’s a nerve in your body called the vagus nerve. And this is the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for bringing your body back to a calm state. And it descends from your brain through the entire torso. It connects to pretty much all your organs, including your heart and lungs. So I’m not gonna get too much into anatomy here. But all you need to know is that if you can stimulate the vagus nerve, you can actually send a message to your body to chill out. Now, knowing that, I want you to run your tongue along the roof of your mouth toward the back. You feel where it goes from being hard to soft? That soft part is aptly named your soft palate. And the top of the vagus nerve actually sits right above the soft palate. So when you raise the soft palate, you trigger the vagus nerve. Now, what raises the soft palate? Well, it’s really easy to do if you make a big R sound, not r as in rev your engine, but R as in aarrrr, like you’re a pirate. And if you’re a singer, like I am, you’re trained to use the muscles in your throat to make that happen. But if you’re not a singer, which is totally OK, and you don’t wanna look up a video online, guess what. Yawning gets the same action to happen. So do a couple of fake yawns, you’ll probably end up doing it for real, and that’ll calm you down.


The next technique I’ve got for you is called square breathing. And this one’s really simple, you know, you can’t yawn while the boss is yelling at you, but you can do this one. So what you do is imagine a square. And you start at the top corner of the square. You breathe in for four counts as you go across the square. Then you hold your breath for four counts as you go down. Then go across the bottom of the square again as you breathe out for four counts. And you can probably guess, the last move is to hold your breath for four as you come up and complete the box. And so, the reason this works is that the breath is connected to the fight-flight-freeze response. A lot of the time, if you go into fight or flight, your heart rate and breath both start to quicken up so you have the air and oxygen to fight the threat or run away from it. And if you freeze, you can start holding your breath and everything can tense up. So square breathing, it just gets you to break those patterns. If you can control the breath it kinda tells your brain, you know, hey, I’m OK. I don’t need to freak out. That’s part of why so many people focus on deep breathing as part of yoga or meditation. Now, that said, if you’d like to try square breathing along with something like yoga, maybe slip into an empty conference room and just stretch a little, that’s great, too. I recommend that. I know for me, I’m a runner, and one of the reasons I run is because the breath becomes so rhythmic. So if I start stressing out, I can go for a run, and it kind of resets things for me. So go ahead and explore that a little. There’s another good one where you breathe in one, exhale one, breathe in one, exhale two, up to five. And then when you get to five, you start back at one. And you repeat that sequence up to five times. And for most people, by the time they get through all that, they’ve gotten past that worst feeling of anxiety and they can move on. But there are a ton of breathing options out there, but square breathing is a good beginning exercise to kinda build on.


All right, number three. So sometimes when you get stressed out and you go into that fight-flight-freeze response, what happens is your vision will actually start to narrow a little bit. And the science of that is that, when you’re in danger, you don’t want to be distracted by anything in your periphery. You want to laser focus on the threat or the way out. So this next tip is called widening the gaze. And so the idea is that if you can get your visualization to reset, just like with your breathing, it sends that message to your brain through the vagus nerve that the threat is gone and that you can move on. So what you do is you just look straight ahead. Pretty simple, right? And then as you look ahead, you intentionally try to notice what’s in the sides of your field of vision. Now, obviously, there’s so far you can go with this anyway, but you just try to intentionally bring your attention out a little bit, you know, push the doors open a little more, if you will. And this one’s a great one because you can do it literally anywhere. Even in a meeting, nobody’s gonna notice, because it’ll just look to them like you’re looking forward and paying attention to what you’re supposed to be focused on. So it’s quick, it’s subtle, and it really does keep that tunnel vision from taking over.


Okay. Number four. Now, this one is based on the idea that sometimes, when you’re stressed, you get tension in the body, and that tension kind of gets stuck. Like the body doesn’t really know when the threat is done when you’ve got stress all the time, so it doesn’t know it can just relax. So you kind of have to give it a nudge and intentionally lean into that tension to get things to release. And the way you do that is by giving yourself a big old hug. Just cross one hand over to the opposite shoulder or arm, and do the same thing with the other hand. And then, breathe in nice and deep, just tense up on purpose and squeeze. Just hold it for a few counts. And then when you’re ready to release, let out your breath and let all that tension go. You can do this a couple of times if you want. But that final time you release, just kinda let everything drop, roll your shoulders back, take another nice deep breath and see how that feels. Hopefully, it should feel a lot better.


Now, the last stress-busting move I have for you is pelvic floor relaxation. This one might seem a little weird at first to some of you, but I promise it’s not. So if you sit down in a chair and you put your hands under your bottom, you should feel your pelvic bones. And those kinda form a natural square. So just sit and feel that for a minute. Now, inside the pelvic region are muscles that make up what we call the pelvic floor. And when you get stressed or feel threatened, those muscles usually tense up. That’s a natural response. And the pelvic floor connects to a ton of other larger muscle groups, like your abdominal muscles and quadriceps. And those can all tense when you get anxious, too. I mean, I’ve even been so stressed out where, you know, my legs just started shaking. So this is a real thing. But the little trick is to sit on your hands, and then just kinda bear down like you have to use the restroom. And that forces those pelvic floor muscles to let go a little bit. And in fact, paramedics, they’re trained to tell people to do this, if they respond to an emergency call, somebody’s having a heart attack, this is what they tell that person to do, because bearing down will relax those muscles and trigger the vagus nerve to reduce the heart rate.


So that’s it for the tips and tricks to get your body to calm down. But here’s a bonus tactic that’s more cognitive for you. Take 30 to 60 seconds and write down everything that goes through your head. Just brain-dump everything. Sometimes just that alone helps to just clear your head. But then go through what you wrote down and identify everything that’s not in your control. Just cross those things off. Then look at those things and see what you can reframe. Like, if your boss is losing it and calling you at all hours, you can’t control how your boss feels. But you can legitimately reframe that and say, I don’t need to control his feelings, I just need to enforce a boundary. So once you’ve got everything you can’t control crossed off and reframed where you can, you’ll see what you actually can take action on. And for most people, just realizing that the list of what they really have to deal with is a lot smaller than they thought is helpful. It’s less overwhelming. But then I want you to look at what’s left out of what you can control and take action on and then just pick one priority. Just one. That’s now the only thing you have to focus on, OK? Just one thing. So that little technique might help you, too. That’s your bonus.


So with these physical tactics and your bonus cognitive tip, I really hope that you can just take a few breaths and feel a little better. And remember, these techniques, they’re never a substitute for prayer or the relationship you have with God. It’s just that sometimes the body does not cooperate. You know, it’s weak. And sometimes we have to guide it a little bit so we can get control of our heart and mind back so we can then go to God and have really meaningful interaction with Him. It helps you to be in that frame of mind where you can receive Him the right way. And please do not feel guilty when you have to pull out these tactics, because like I said, He gets it, right? He understands that things can get disjointed sometimes, and I want you to see these science-based moves, they really are a gift, I think, to help you get back on course. And just know, too, you know, as you’re trying all of this out, scripture says that the Holy Spirit will make intercession for you. Even when you have no clue how to pray or can’t do it because your body is just too hot, that’s when the Holy Spirit is working hard for you, OK?


So let’s pray.

Lord, when I look at the headlines and studies, you know, I’ve talked with professionals and doctors about stress in the workplace. I’ve seen all the data from the World Health Organization on how it’s influencing not just productivity, but also mental health and well-being. And Lord, when we look at Jesus on the cross, when we look at what happened to Your prophets, we know that You don’t always just lift us out of what’s hard. And until You come back we’re gonna have to deal with these quirky bodies of ours that don’t always do what we want. So I just pray today that these tactics will help people out there so that they can get through what they need to and so they can come back to You thinking clearly enough to ask You to fully calm their spirit. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.


That’s a wrap on today’s show, everybody. Hopefully, you’ll try some of these tactics out. Let me know if they help you, you can send me an email at taking_dictation@yahoo.com or connect with me on Twitter @FaithfulOTC. Our next episode is going to be a special one, everybody, because I’m chatting with Mark Miller, Vice President of High Performance Culture at Chick-fil-A. Our discussion will cover his new book and give you three simple rules for creating a truly satisfying and innovative workplace. Catch that in two weeks, and until then, as always, be blessed.

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Faithful on the Clock
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
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Wanda Thibodeaux

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.

Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.