“I get nervous when I don’t get nervous. If I’m nervous, I know I’m going to have a good show.” – Beyoncé
Butterflies in stomach, the jitters, bundle of nerves, the heebie-jeebies…
No matter what you call it, each of these sayings capture the essence of the uncomfortable sensation that we experience when we find ourselves in delicate situations, such as when we deliver a presentation or pitch, when we do a test, give a performance, or right before we ask someone out.
In general, people feel nervous when they’re dealing with situations where they believe the stakes are high and they feel the pressure to perform their best. And in today’s world, there’s no getting around anxiety-inducing situations, where there is now stiffer competition and higher expectations, both in our personal and professional lives. You have to be willing to go the extra mile if you want to stand out.
If we want to live up to our potential and build a strong platform for ourselves, we can’t shy away from the spotlight. We have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone, as it’s the only way for us to grow and expand our repertoire. This necessitates the need to find ways to manage our nervousness so that it doesn’t prevent us from giving our best shot and ultimately succeeding in our efforts.
To begin this process, we should first take a closer look at the origins of nervousness. Anxiety of any sort has its root in a very primal part of our being and is a cousin of a more familiar emotion known to all of us – fear. We experience fear whenever we feel threatened on some level. In our modern times, we perceive the prospect of being judged and scrutinized as a threat to our security and reputation.
In the past, the only fear triggers that our caveman ancestors faced were imminent, life-threatening dangers such as wild animals chasing them or other clans invading their territory, but today, we experience the same physiological symptoms when dealing with relatively benign, modern day stressors that we face at work, in our relationships and with our finances.
Even though these issues may give us legitimate reasons to be concerned, we should keep things in perspective by realizing that our safety is not being compromised. If we can accomplish this, we’ll be able to avoid panicking and use fear to galvanize us into making decisions and taking action. In fact, many experienced stage performers and speakers have become experts at using nerves to give them a boost.
The dysfunction occurs when our mind gets out of control and we enter into the zone of irrational nervousness. Prolonged nervousness not only hampers your mental functioning but also causes physical health problems. The shot of adrenalin and cortisol that your body produces is meant to drive you into action temporarily to cope with a situation, and should get back to normal once matters are resolved.
If you’re experiencing prolonged physiological symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, sweating, spacing out, skin problems, shortness of breath, and sweaty palms, you need to get help, as it could be an indication of an anxiety disorder, which should be diagnosed and treated by a qualified psychotherapist.
But if you are someone who experiences garden-variety nervous spells for specific situations only, the key is managing your thoughts and fears. It’s usually during critical junctures in your life that your inner gremlin likes to rear its ugly head and whisper things to you such as “you’re not smart” or “experienced enough” or “cute enough”. I’ve written about how to deal with the inner gremlin/critic in this post.
Unfortunately, a lot of people lack the right knowledge and tools to deal with their bouts of nervousness. This causes many of them to resort to drinking alcohol, smoking or taking drugs to numb their anxieties. I would like to propose wholesome and natural alternatives for dealing with this tricky emotion. Here are five simple and effective remedies to manage your anxiety symptoms:
- Breathing and movement: The existence of a strong mind-body connection implies that we can significantly impact the quality of our thoughts based on how we treat and move our body. According to self-development guru Tony Robbins, we can instantly shift our thoughts by simply changing our physiology. Before going on stage for his 50-hour seminars with up to 4,000 attendees, he follows a pre-show ritual that involves a lot of movement such as fist pumps, jumping up and down, bouncing on a trampoline, standing with his arms outstretched. This routine helps him get into what he calls “peak state”. Another physiological technique is practicing deep breathing exercises to pump more oxygen into the brain. Remember also to avoid caffeine, as it will only increase your nervousness, and to get plenty of rest, exercise and eat a healthy diet that promotes balance and wellness.
- Change your thoughts and visualize success: Negative thoughts that originate from unhealthy thinking patterns are a huge culprit for excessive nervousness. If you find yourself inhibited because of a negative perspective, you’ll need to work on shifting towards a healthier frame of mind that is strong enough to deal with precarious situations. I’ve written about dealing with negativity in detail in this post. Another powerful technique that you can use is visualization. Visualization is using our imagination to create pictures and mental imagery of what we want in our lives and how we are going to make them happen. Many athletes use this technique right before a race, where they see themselves performing their best and beating out the competition. This article provides more information on how to visualize.
- Preparation: I’ve noticed that the more prepared I am, the more confident I feel about doing well at a task. When you’re focused and you put in the hours needed to prepare for an important event, you’ll feel better about your prospects of doing well. Preparing for things in advance gives your subconscious mind plenty of time to absorb and record data and information. Once that happens, your conscious mind will require less effort in channeling and applying your knowledge. For example, as a student, you probably used to perform better at the tests that you studied for in advance because you could not only recall the information better but you also experienced less exam jitters that could shut down your mind.
- Desensitize yourself: Desensitization is a process used to reduce the amount of nervousness one feels with each part of an activity until the activity does not bring up any anxiety. This popular method is used by NLP practitioners and psychotherapists to deal with both general and specific kinds of nervousness. Clients are slowly exposed to the triggers until they gradually feel more at ease and are able to face uncomfortable situations without experiencing nervous symptoms. For example, let’s say that the mere thought of public speaking makes you break into a sweat. You can desensitize yourself by firstly speaking in front of a smaller audience of people that you know, such as family and friends, and then move on to speaking at a public speaking support group such as Toastmasters. As you continue to practice in relatively non-stressful environments where you don’t feel like you’re being evaluated by your audience, you’ll slowly gain the confidence needed to speak at larger and more important events.
- Keep things in perspective: When we get nervous, it’s almost always because we put too much weight on our performance in one specific area of our life. It’s similar to what a roulette player feels when he puts a large sum of money on one number and waits in uncomfortable suspense. The truth is that life will offer us many chances and one round is not going to cause our ruin. That’s why we need to lighten up and release our attachment to the outcome of a situation. When we’re overly attached, we feel needy and almost desperate to succeed, and that’s not a comfortable place to be in. Try to go with the flow and be willing to accept whatever happens, while trusting that you will be okay no matter what.
I believe that being nervous can actually be good thing because it’s a sign that we are growing and expanding. It’s proof that we are brave and courageous enough to put ourselves out there, because we know that, at the end of the day, our basic worth does not hinge on validation from others. Instead, we know that it comes from a place of unconditional love and an undying passion to live life to the fullest.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: During which circumstances do you usually get nervous? What do you usually do to manage nervousness within you?
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