Square breathing

One of the ways to calm yourself when things seem scary is to understand that our bodies are machines that were designed when our brains were smaller and our reflexes had to be quicker. Our lives are testimony to those of our ancestors who possessed quick reflexes; slower folk didn't live long enough to pass their genes along.

Breathing is the key to calmness. The fight or flight response — our age-old response to real or imagined threat — depends on delivering oxygen quickly and efficiently to muscles that need to be ready for action. During this adrenaline rush, your heart rate increases, the passageways to your lungs streamline, your blood vessels redirect blood supply, and you begin to sweat. Real or perceived danger (anxiety) throws the body into overdrive, literally. Calming the breathing slows everything down.

Ordinarily, we parallel breath, in and out. To enter into a more relaxed state, practice square breathing, which is inhaling to the count of four, holding to the count of four, exhaling to the count of four, and holding for four. With practice, you can increase the intervals and slow things down even more. Not only is square breathing good for confidence building, but it's also good for relaxation, talking to the boss about a raise, preparing for a speech, and — ta-da! — going out on a date.

In general, wear something you like and know you look good in for a first date instead of something very different from the real you or something brand new that might pinch or fall apart or chafe. Your lucky dress or tie or color is a better choice for a first date than that brand spanking new bolero jacket you bought because you thought it looked good on Zorro or the Jacksons (either Michael, Janet, or Andrew). Also, beware especially of new shoes. They can literally cramp your style faster than anything I know. It's hard to stride confidently into a room if you have a gigantic blister on your heel or your toes are folded back onto each other like an accordion. Clothes should be comfortable. Wearing something that looks good but feels lousy (a too-tight waistband or collar) is distracting and worrisome and unproductive.

How you conduct yourself has a big impact on how other people act around you. Think about someone who's really fun to be around. Usually that person makes you comfortable because he or she is comfortable in his or her own skin. Conversely, somebody who's nervous and fidgety and needy makes you break out in hives. Remember, people accept your version of yourself until they know you better or have some reason not to. So put on that smile, shine those shoes, remind yourself why your momma loves you, and keep in mind that everybody's nervous on a first date. If you can allow that nervousness to be only a tiny layer of a nice, deep coat of confidence, both you and your date can calm down and begin the hopefully enjoyable task of getting to know each other.

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