A few weeks ago, I received some bad news. The kind of news you don’t want to receive. On an MRI scan, doctors spotted something in my knee that doesn’t belong there — it’s either a tumor or a bacterial infection.
This past Tuesday, I had my surgery. Despite the stressful situation, I was calm, relaxed, and positive in the moments before my surgery. And no, it wasn’t because of the medication. It was the result of practicing certain techniques to calm my mind.
In this article, I’ll share which techniques I used in the moments before my surgery to calm my mind, stop negative thinking, and reduce anxiety. You can use these techniques for any situation — whether it’s giving a high-stakes presentation, going to a job interview, undergoing surgery, or even during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Technique 1: Box Breathing
Whenever we get nervous, our breath becomes more shallow and rapid, our heartbeat rises, and our muscles tend to tense up. All of these things are a signal of stress, activating the fight or flight response.
These physical signals tend to influence your state of mind as well. When your body is everything but calm, your mind won’t be calm either. One of the best ways to counter this is by practicing ‘box breathing.’
Box breathing is a breathwork technique used by Navy Seals, Olympic athletes, and other high-performers to stay calm in the most extreme situations. Box breathing goes like this:
Step 1: Breathe in through your nose for 4–5 seconds
Step 2: Hold your breath for 4–5 seconds
Step 3: Slowly exhale for 4–5 seconds
Step 4: Repeat steps 1 to 3 for at least three more rounds
By practicing this breathing technique, your heartbeat slows down, your muscles relax, and your body de-stresses. When the body is calm, the mind tends to follow.
Essentially, you gain back control over your mind as you slowly direct your attention away from stress and towards a calm, controlled breathing pattern.
This is precisely what I used in the moments before my surgery. The doctors, who monitored my heartbeat, told me that I was incredibly calm and that they’d hardly seen anybody this relaxed. It’s simply because I was keeping my mind and body calm and in-sync by following the box breathing patterns.
Technique 2: Focus on Gratitude
In most stressful situations, the mind tends to gravitate towards the negative. It starts to think about all the things that could go wrong and all the difficulties that could follow. This is a normal survival mechanism that has helped us humans survive and thrive through the ages.
However, too many negative thoughts — especially when unwanted — can cause a loop of stress, worries, and anxiety. This leads you to suffer much more than necessary. It makes the whole situation twice as bad. One of the best antidotes is to practice gratitude.
As Tony Robbins said, you can’t be fearful and grateful at the same time. The two don’t coexist. So, in the hours and even minutes before my surgery, I focused on all the positive things I could find. I focused on all the things I could be grateful for.
“The antidote to fear is gratitude. The antidote to anger is gratitude. You can’t feel fear or anger while feeling gratitude at the same time.” — Tony Robbins
I observed the medical personal and felt grateful for the amazing work they were doing. I thought about how this day was the ‘official’ day my recovery started. I thought about how grateful I am to get back to my healthy, energetic self. I was grateful for my girlfriend being there and supporting me all the way.
All in all, because of focusing on gratitude, I was flooded with positive thoughts and emotions. So much so that there was hardly any room for stress, anxiety, and negativity.
The next time you feel stressed or anxious, take advantage of the power of positive thought. Focus on the things you can be grateful for — even though the situation might be incredibly challenging. Remember, there’s always something or someone you can be grateful for. Always.
Technique 3: Getting Out Of My Head And Into My Environment
Instead of staying stuck in my own head — worrying about the surgery, thinking about the things that could go wrong, etc. — I got into my environment. This helped me calm down, lighten the situation, and stopped my mind from drifting to negative thoughts.
Instead of being trapped in my own head, I talked with the nurses, doctors, and others. I asked them questions about their work and personal life. We connected, made some jokes, and time flew by much faster. All in all, getting out of my head and into my environment helped me ease the situation.
When you have to give an important presentation, for example, try to connect with the audience members or other speakers beforehand. Talk a little, make a few jokes, get to know some of the people there.
When you have to go to an important job interview, talk with the cleaners, the receptionist, the barista, or anyone else. Get out of your head and into your environment. You’ll loosen up, feel more positive, and experience a lot less anxiety compared to staying stuck in your own loop of (negative) thoughts.
Now Do It
The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, apply at least one of these techniques to regain a calm and centered mind. You got this!
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab