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How to reduce the feeling of stress when you're learning something new

Do you know the feeling of pressure when you learn new things? For example new responsibilities in your job as a young professional. Learning a new sport. Starting dancing lessons. That uncomfortable feeling of stepping out of your comfort zone.

These feelings keep you sharp. But it can become too overwhelming, causing a lot of stress. And instead of being productive, you have a reaction of fight, flight or freeze. How to deal with that?

For me, getting my driver license was an example that triggered a lot of this pressure to perform. I remember doing my practical driving test. But I failed it. Again. This was attempt two. And I was so angry with myself. I cycled home and I felt furious and sad at the same time. I was 25! I must be able to do this! It was just a stupid exam and I felt ridiculous for not passing it.

I had that often with learning new things. A new job. Learning to row. Getting the driver's license. I told myself that I was a loser if I didn’t succeed at the first attempt. That I must be capable of doing this all by myself.

All this self-talk resulted in a feeling of overwhelming pressure, fear, anxiety, and stress. And that didn’t help at the moment when I needed to perform. It’s harder to succeed and make decisions when you feel so much tension. I froze and wanted to escape the situation.

A first step to deal with this was becoming aware of the things I said to myself. Instead of seeing myself as a loser who isn’t capable of anything, feeling that it’s okay to not to know everything already. That it is not the end of the world if I need a few attempts for my driver license. That I already took some great steps and that I am improving. And that it is quite realistic that you can't drive a car overnight when you've never done that before.

So the first step for change is being aware of your mindset around learning that new thing.

Take a moment to imagine a situation where you were feeling this pressure. Bring back that moment. And notice how you felt then.

And: notice what your thoughts were. Write down the ‘self-talk’ going on in your head. What is it that you expect from yourself?

Now look at your results. How realistic is this to expect from yourself?

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