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Flop Sweat: How to Stop Sweating Buckets When Anxiety Kicks In

So, you’re in a nerve-wracking situation, but how do you deliver the goods when it really counts… without flop sweat sending you down river?

Flop Sweat

I’m a guy, but I had an uncommon amount of anxiety growing up that eventually grew into a giant black hole. I remember having strong BO in public and huge sweat patches. My overall experience of school, university, and work were of sticky and uncomfortable sweatiness under my pits – which would then trigger flop sweat and an increasingly sweaty brow.

Just the anticipation of sweating would cause this chain of events. I feared being in a very public or close-contact space such as: sitting in a crowded assembly room in-between other students, in an intimate classroom, or for a public speech.

Why does flop sweat happen?

Say you were walking down your local park and you saw a fully-grown tiger a few paces ahead. It’s muscular back rippled as it looked up at you and made eye contact. For the next 10 minutes, you tried not to move… if you were so lucky to escape, afterwards you’d probably be dripping wet with sweat – your t-shirt sticking to your back.

Sweat helps your body not overheat during intense physical exertion – so even though the temperature didn’t rise when you were faced with the tiger, your brain assumed that it might increase in the very near future if it chased you and you had to try to fight or escape. What your brain actually did was to signal the release of the hormone epinephrine, causing you to sweat.

I’ll add a caveat: menopause, drugs, or disease can cause unexplained sweat. So consider going to the doctor if you think you may be suffering from an illness or a condition. But if you’re reading this, chances are there’s some situation that makes you so nervous that you sweat – and you want to master this reaction. [Read: Nervous sweating – Recognize the triggers and stop stress sweats]

How to overcome flop sweat

Just so you know, flop sweat is automatic and can be triggered by your nerves. It’s your body’s way of pre-empting fight or flight when it spots a threat.

Here’s what has worked for me over the years.

#1 Embracing anxiety. I run a meet-up group called Beyond Anxiety, named that because I had the insight that whatever you focus on not only grows, but also becomes your whole world. Also what you try to block only cracks through the seams – I would know – I was that false bravado, bearing-the-whole-world-on-my-shoulders type of guy.

The other and much better option was to acknowledge how I was feeling but to do nothing about it. To follow through with what my task was at any moment and to accept that I wouldn’t always feel great about it. The cool thing that happened was that over time I become more competent at the things I was bad at and forgot about my nervousness.

The rest of the world came into focus when I didn’t obsess about eliminating one aspect of my experience. I accepted that at moments I’d have some anxiety depending on circumstance, because it was a healthy and normal emotion.

I also had fearlessness, love, anger, and so on. All of it was a part of me. Over time, I grew the natural and authentic type of confidence that only comes with hard-won experience – not the pretend or showy kind. [Read: How to put yourself out there and embrace anxiety]

#2 Breathing. I’m a writer – I mention it because writers don’t tend to breathe well when they’re absorbed in putting words to the white page. I practice deep, slow breathing into my nose down to my belly and out of my mouth, when I want to relax and be calm. I sometimes do this with meditation.

You can place a hand on your chest and the other on your belly to test it. If your chest rises then you’re not breathing into your belly. When you breathe out, purse your lips as if you’re blowing out a candle. Breathing into your mouth actually makes you feel less calm as it’s related to the fight or flight mechanism *you breathe into your mouth when you need more air in order to move intensely*. [Read: How to be more outgoing – 12 ways to step out of the comfort zone]

#3 Using antiperspirant. No, I’m not kidding with this one and I’m not mocking. I’ve been there, man – some people just sweat a lot. I made a decision to just accept it and be prepared.

Some people don’t have bad BO. I’m not one of those people… so I use brands like Maximum Sure 48hrs Protection. If you don’t have bad body odor, then you might not be too worried about this – however, those armpit sweat stains can be annoying.

#4 Practicing. I remember attending a public speaking course – I decided to go to explore my public speaking fears, because back in school and university, my hands would shake and my voice tremble whenever I gave a public speech.

During the course, I remember this guy who signed up because he wanted to give a best man’s speech that was due in a few weeks. He wasn’t the best to begin with by a long shot, but neither was he as bad as he probably thought he was.

I could tell he was nervous talking in front of the intimately sized room. His eye contact was towards the ceiling but his way of speaking was absorbing. After several sessions, he began to realize that he wasn’t half bad and he became more comfortable on stage. Nevertheless, he never seemed completely at ease with the experience, and the same is true for some famous people and even rock stars.

Practice can give you a bit more grounding even if it does not eliminate your flop sweat. For me, I was less nervous doing public speaking and found that my voice and hands did not shake. [Read: How to build self-confidence and realize you’re really worth it]

#5 Re-framing it. Anxiety is a close cousin of excitement because both are arousal states, which is why – rather than jumping from anxiety into a sense of calm – it’s easier to convert nervousness into a feeling of excitement.

A situation could be interpreted as being on the spot and under investigation or more like getting the chance to shine and show what you’re made of.

Re-frame the situation using what’s called ‘anxiety reappraisal’ – when you add to an anxious thought: ‘I’m so excited that… ’ or ‘I’m going to get the chance to… ’ or ‘I just can’t wait… ’ Tap into that fighter, explorer, curiosity, alertness. Remind yourself that no one can read your mind and really people don’t care if you’re little bit nervous, it’s normal and sometimes a sign that you can be trusted. [Read: How not to be nervous – 18 calm ways to eliminate nerves instantly]

#6 Not being perfect. You want to get it right the first time – to astound, be flawless? Good luck… I can count perfectionism as one of my biggest flaws and one that I try to avoid. I also know people with a lot of talent who will probably die with a lot of regrets.

Especially in this age of instant connectivity, if you’re afraid of failure then you can’t possibly be in the game for real. No one cares if you make a mistake – they care whether you tried and were brave enough to put yourself out there. So my policy is to do, learn from feedback, and do again. All this obsessing over what will happen is often the problem itself. [Read: The fear of failure and how it can ruin your life for good]

#7 Not comparing – doing you. Not who you wish you were or what you think is cool, but you. Whenever I’m beating myself up about not doing something in this or that way I’m usually trying to meet someone else’s expectations.

‘Doing you’ in my opinion is to focus on your biggest strengths and to shore up major weaknesses.

An example of this is if you’re a great communicator verbally but a terrible writer. Something like a YouTube channel would suit you really well and a blog perhaps not so well. Why crucify yourself trying to be as good a writer as Mrs A, when you’re a better speaker than average and really enjoy doing it?

#8 Focus on the moment. Another great strategy to avoid flop sweat is being in the here and now. The movements of your lungs, faces in the room, moving your thumb around your index finger in a circular motion and feeling the texture of your skin. Whatever gets you into the moment – a yawn, a stretch. Meditation can help greatly with this ability. [Read: How to focus on yourself and build your own sunshine]

#9 Visualizing yourself succeeding. This one’s strange and I used to think it was ridiculous, but whenever I’ve bothered to actually do it, it’s worked out really well – I get the feeling that it’s a call to action for your brain to gear itself for a big moment to come some time in the future.

This is intent in action and your brain roots for you when you have strong intent. I definitely want my brain on my side when it really counts, like when I want to avoid flop sweat.

#10 Eating more. This one’s surprisingly effective for avoiding flop sweat, and also I think easy to overlook – because habits are hard to change. Sometimes I’m a bit more jittery than normal and when I consider it I realize that I haven’t eaten much – perhaps I’ve done a lot of mind power-sapping work beforehand and it’s especially true if I’ve done a big workout that same morning.

When you’re low in metabolic fuel, you’re more likely to feel nervous. An empty stomach = more anxious. Increase your calories if you find that flop sweat is a common thing during your day.

#11 Not lying. And telling the truth… if you’ve got something to hide you’ll be more nervous. I believe in practicing honesty even, actually especially, when it’s not convenient. Even admitting that you’re nervous, say if you’re on a date is a good way of doing this. I used to lie a lot, and I can tell you that life was a lot more complicated back then. [Read: 10 signs of low self-esteem and 5 ways to increase it]

Now I tell the truth and life is simple and sometimes very exciting because you never quite know what will happen when you tell the truth. I focus on telling meta-truths rather than one-dimensional truths.

So for example, if I was on a date and I found a girl to be boring, rather than saying ‘you’re boring’, I’d probably say something like ‘you know, I think we seem pretty different in the type of things we’re into.’ Both statements can be true, however, the second one is less concerned with just how I feel and more with the both of us.

#12 Do more things that make you flop sweat. Ultimately, being on the edge between where you think you’ll easily succeed and where you won’t is a great for building more resilience and also for creating more opportunities. For me, life didn’t begin until I started facing my own edge, and so for this reason, I think that life happens at the edges.

[Read: How to improve yourself – 16 powerful secrets of self-improvement]

If I’m honest, I think that flop sweat is not a big deal and is something we need to just get over it through: practice, experience and re-framing. Not being perfect and ‘just doing you’ are great attitudes that I’ve used to get a TON of experience in handling scary situations.

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Anonymous Fella
Anonymous Fella
An unnamed guy with a great story and an idea to share, the Anonymous Fella is the secret voice that wants to be heard, but prefers to be masked under anonymity...