How to Overcome Anxiety in Critical Moments

November 12th, 2015 by Nick Notas 6 Comments

Every day we’re forced to make decisions that impact our lives. Most of the time, we don’t think twice about them.

Moments like…

Grabbing what you want for breakfast. Choosing a new book to read. Picking out the color of comforter you want.

These decisions are relatively simple, low-risk, and don’t cause us a lot of struggle.

But there are some decisions in our life which are downright terrifying. These usually require more emotional investment. They may expose us to rejection or judgment. They may influence our future greatly. And they can make or break our relationships.

Moments when you choose whether or not to…

Say hi to a girl at a party. Start the break-up conversation with your significant other. Ask your boss for a promotion.

These decisions are more complex and high-risk. And when the stakes are high, that can only mean one thing…

More anxiety.

That anxiety prevents us from taking the right actions when we need to most. This further strengthens our fears, self-doubts, and stops us from getting what we want

Today, I’m going to show you a system to better manage your anxiety during critical moments. Because THOSE are the times that can lead to life’s most memorable experiences.


Whenever someone’s feeling anxious, the first thing I notice is their body language. Almost always, their body is tight and their facial expression is tense. Their arms are crossed and their breathing is shallow.

It’s safe to say that your mental state in any moment affects your body language. But you may not realize that your body language, in turn, ALSO affects your mental state. If you allow yourself to stay stuck in closed-off body language, you’re going to reinforce negative emotions and trigger fight or flight mode.

To improve your anxious state of mind, you need to calm yourself down and lower your heart rate.

Start by uncrossing your arms and consciously smiling. Take in a deep, gentle breath through your nose for about 3 seconds. Exhale slowly and softly out of your mouth for about 6 seconds. This is a good, natural rhythm for most people. Do this for a couple minutes and it will gradually bring down your heart rate. Go to a more private area or room if you’re around people and uncomfortable.

Next, think about which muscles in your body are most tense when you’re feeling anxious. That could be in your hands, neck, face, or back. Consciously choose one of those muscle groups and squeeze them tight for five seconds or so. After that, gently release that muscle and leave it as loose as possible. Repeat a few times if necessary.

The point is to feel the distinct difference between tense and relaxed muscles so that you can truly relax them. This leads to open, confident body language.

Become present

Calvin & Hobbes Living in the Moment

Being anxious means you’re stuck in your own head feeling something bad is going to happen. And you’re experiencing the anguish of your worst fears as if they’ve already come true.

But remember, none of that doom and gloom will happen unless you actually take that next step. There’s no rush, no one’s timing you, and there’s often no need to proceed immediately. The best way to remind your subconscious of that is to pull yourself into the present moment and take the pressure off yourself to perform.

Look at your surroundings and pay attention to the details. Describe in your head as vividly as possible what you’re looking at — the sounds in the room, the decor, what everyone’s wearing, or even peoples’ body language. Appreciate the world around you.

Start talking to yourself and making fun of the situation in a silly voice. Or make humorous observations about the people around you and make yourself laugh. Try visualizing a place that makes you happy or your ideal vacation spot.

In the book The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane talks about focusing on parts of your body and how they feel. That could be scrunching your toes in your shoes or the rhythm of your breath. 

All this will help you distract yourself from overthinking, take some of the seriousness out of the ordeal, and make you more grounded in reality — instead of in your head, worrying about hypotheticals.

Accept it’s all fine

When we’re feeling anxious, all we want to do is push those feelings away or ignore them. But by doing so, we give them more control and power over us. As Carl Jung said, “what you resist, persists.”

You need to accept that anxiety is okay and nothing is wrong with you. Tell yourself, “I’m afraid…and that’s healthy and normal.” There’s no shame in accepting that you’re scared in a situation. Confidence is not the absence of fear, but pushing forward despite that fear.

You also need to call your anxiety out on its shit. It doesn’t know fact from fiction and it’s all make believe. You can’t predict the future, so tell yourself…

“This is all just a story. It’s my own fear feeding me bullshit and expecting the worst. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen. It could be the best experience of my life and amazing things could come from this, but I’ll never know until I try.”

Finally, you need to accept that whatever happens is not a reflection on your value. You’re not a loser or less worthy. Failure is feedback and the best people in every field fail endlessly to find success. So remind yourself that even if you stumble, it’s a sign of strength.

Embrace curiosity

We make our anxiety so much worse when we try to control all possible outcomes. We become fixated on achieving a specific end result — whether that’s making a perfect first impression or acing an interview. We have to win, and anything less is seen as a loss.

But by doing this, you’re actually setting yourself up to fail. You can’t predict the future and you definitely can’t control it. The likelihood that your one exact outcome is going to happen is slim.

So, you have to reframe your mind and not measure success by whether or not you achieved that great victory. Sometimes you won’t get your desired result (and that’s okay), but there’s still a lot of value to be gained. Instead of speculating and trying to make everything perfect before taking action, just be curious.

Because it creates a more healthy mindset. (Threadless)

Start by taking the goal you have in mind. Ask yourself, “What do I want from this, regardless of my fears?” Think long-term.

For example: You want to say hello to a stranger. The short-term answer to the question could be, “I want to run and go home because I’m terrified.” The real, long-term answer would be, “I want to be able to walk up to a new girl and have fun talking to her.”

Now take that goal and instead of focusing on the end result, treat it as an experiment. 

Ask yourself…

Regardless of what happens, what can I learn from this? You’ll get more experience in overcoming your approaching fears with new people. You’ll learn how to better converse with different personality types. You’ll get more comfortable displaying strong body language for future interactions. 

How can I make this easier on myself? Maybe you can’t immediately go up and introduce yourself to that girl. So instead, think about how you could break this down into easier steps that you can implement in the moment.

Could you practice holding eye contact from across the room? Could you have a friend introduce you to that person so you don’t have to take the first leap alone? Could you ask a casual question about what she’s drinking, say thanks, and leave?

What if everything went perfectly? We’re always imagining the worst outcomes when feeling anxious. But that’s all speculation…so why not assume the BEST will happen?

What if you got an amazing response and you immediately hit it off with that girl? What if she loved your approach and you had an amazing night together? What if this all started an amazing connection that could change your life?

Being curious about the amazing possible outcomes will help alleviate your worries. Because whatever happens, it’s all research to use for future growth. And the more experience you get, the more your anxiety will diminish.

Be compassionate and forgive yourself

Hopefully, the above will start to strip away your anxiety so you can take more action in critical moments. But I know all too well from experience — that’s not a change that’s going to happen overnight.

There will still be moments when you’re paralyzed by fear. There will be situations where you just can’t move or go through with something. In those cases…

Too many anxious people berate themselves when they succumb to their nerves. Their inner voice calls them “weak” or “a failure.” That is the worst way to treat yourself How is that ever going to give you the courage to push through your fears?

I understand you can’t just ignore those negative thoughts. So instead, you need to replace them with positive self-talk. Show yourself some gratitude. Praise yourself for even considering taking action — that’s progress in itself. Be happy that you’re trying to work through these issues. That all takes a ton of courage and you have to acknowledge that.

You need to be your own number one fan. That’s the only way this is going to work.

Moreover, be more lenient with yourself. It’s okay if you have to give up on something in the moment. You can always introduce yourself to someone else. You can always apply for another job. You can take five minutes and try again.

You will ALWAYS have more opportunities in the future. You are only defeated if you give up permanently.

So instead of beating up on yourself for being imperfect, loosen your grasp on the situation and remember, “This one moment is not a big deal.”

  1. Martin on November 12, 2015

    I used to take pills for my anxiety but they made me all sorts of fucked up. So I started doing a lot of the stuff you recommend here along with other advice I've read online in social situations. It was really hard and took about a year of pushing myself but eventually I got over most of my day to day anxiety. It's still a work in progress but I stopped taking medicine months ago and haven't felt better.

    • Nick Notas on November 12, 2015

      Congrats man, that’s amazing!

      I’m not against anxiety meds or anti-depressants but I do think we’re too eager to prescribe them as a quick fix. I think a lot more people could benefit from trying more organic methods to begin with. That said, there are some people who definitely need that medicine and it helps them tremendously.

  2. Amanda on November 12, 2015

    I have to confess, I’m quite an anxious person. I don’t take meds for it but I have seen a therapist about it. All of your advices resonates deeply with me and makes me feel better about coping with anxiety in the moment. I’m going to re-read while practicing my slow breathing, haha

    • Nick Notas on November 13, 2015

      I’m glad you feel my advice connects with you and it’s helping out. The fact that you’re accepting you want to work on all this and are willing to talk about it is an awesome step in the right direction 🙂

  3. Greg on November 13, 2015

    Great post Nick! I love the part about calling out our anxiety, and how it’s not a fortune teller and doesn’t even know fact from fiction. I’m also a big fan of Olivia Fox Cabane and find it helpful to remember that at this very moment, a lot of other people are going through this very same thing, even people we admire have felt just as we have.

  4. Papi on November 14, 2015

    I just want to say Thank You…like thank, thank, thank you! Your blog has really helped me move on, with everything, my life, my relationships, everything, I’m not the same guy I was at January this year, all thanks to you, Nick. So again, let me say it one more time, THANK YOU!!!