When in doubt, breathe.
In the context of speaking or being up front of a group, or even a camera, people often ask me what to do when put on the spot, when hit by a surprise question, challenged by a difficult moment. My first response is, “Breathe!” This is very real advice.
Let’s explore for a moment. First, stopping the breath and freezing when under threat is a natural response that goes back to a time when we humans spent a fair amount of time avoiding being a meal. We couldn’t out-run most predators, we couldn’t out-power them and, frustratingly for humans, we couldn’t reason with them. One of our key defences was not to be noticed and among other things, that means not being heard. We developed over time an automatic reaction to danger: don’t move, stay alert and don’t breathe more than absolutely necessary.
So now when faced with a threat, the old brain kicks in and some of the same reactions occur. Taking a breath does a number of things. One, we are giving ourselves a message (unconsciously) that we are not in danger. Two, we are taking in oxygen which will help us think better (the brain uses more oxygen than any other organ). Three, by taking a deep breath, we give ourselves time to think and fourthly, that deep breath, centred around the gut, moves our centre of gravity down, helping us be more physically, thus more mentally centred and stable.
In short, less fear, better thinking, time to think and a sense of stability – not a bad prospect for a single breath.