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  • Writer's pictureCarol Alford

What to do when feeling nervous

How often to you find yourself feeling nervous at a key moment in your life and worry that the nerves will take over and prevent you from achieving what you set out to do? Most people in this situation quite often tell themselves to calm down. But did you know, trying to suppress those feelings and emotions has the opposite it effect, it actually adds fuel to the fire? By telling yourself to calm down, what you're actually telling yourself is, it's not ok to feel like this, I'm not prepared, no-one else is feeling like this! All of this negative chatter simply activates your stress levels, rather than eliminating them. Resulting in you feeling more uncomfortable, rather than soothed and calmed. And the doubts that follow erode your confidence, which is not where we want to be - right? Whether your presenting to an audience, performing in competition, going for an interview or starting a new job, trying to suppress nervous feelings will not work effectively for you. But don't worry we've got your back covered, here at What should you do? Ideally you should accept the nerves without attaching any emotion to them. Sounds great, yeah, but trying putting that into practice. Instead try this - reappraise it. What do I mean by this? Simply change the interpretation on how your feeling in this situation and how you're responding to those emotions. We start first by becoming aware of what indicators you have when you become nervous. Typically they will consist of some, or all of the following;

  • Butterflies in the stomach

  • Brain racing ahead

  • Shaking

  • sweating 

  • mouth becoming dry

We have been brought up to believe that these indicators are bad for us, in that they are signals telling us we're not ready to perform. In truth, what your body is actually doing, is preparing you for action - what we term as getting ready for thefight or flight response.  Your body is telling you to get ready to perform and the indicators are reinforcing this by telling you;

  • Butterflies in the stomach - your digestive system is shutting down. Its transferring the energy normally used to breakdown the food to where its needed for action

  • Brain racing ahead - This is making you aware the brain is scanning and assessing all options available to you, ready to act

  • Shaking - your muscles are pumping with adrenaline, getting ready to fire when needed. Motor neurons are sent out to the extremities to give you a faster reaction time

  • sweating  - The stress hormones released causes your body temperature to raise and starts to sweat so that you don't overheat. It's actually protecting you from the inside out - neat eh!

  • mouth becomes dry - is shutting down salvia glands to conserve fluid and energy, your not going to eat or drink at this point, so the salvia is not required

Not totally convinced yet? Well here's some actual data to back this up. Research carried out in the USA, at the University of Rochester took 3 different activities considered to make people feel nervous

  1. Public speaking - the number one fear of Americans apparently

  2. Sitting a maths test - I'm sure a lot of you can relate to this one

  3. Singing live to an audience

Each activity was allocated a group of people, which they then split into 3 further groups. The first group were told toreappraise their feeling of nervousness as being excited.The second group were told to accept how they were feeling i.e. nervous and the final group were told nothing, they were the control group.

Each group in each activity were monitored and they were all found to experience the same physiological changes in their bodies, such as heart rate increasing and body temperature rising. No surprises there, since thats a normal human response to feeling nervous.

However, what was astounding, was how they responded to the way they were feeling. In every activity, the first group, the ones told to get excited, performed on average, between 15-20% better than those in the second group, the ones who were told to accept their nerves. The first group also out performed the last group, i.e the control group who were given no advise, by an average of 15% better.

The evidence proved that the body's physiology will react to nerves the same, no matter how we respond to our feelings, in that our bodies will send out the indicators we are familiar with. This is nothing to fear its our body preparing to for fight or flight. However, how we chose to react to our feelings, will have an impact on our performance. Suppressing our nerves will hurt our performance. Whereas, accepting and reappraising the feeling, owning it and becoming excited by it, rather than fearing it, can improve our performance. By reappraising you can unlock your true performance.

So next time you're feeling nervous, give it a go. Reappraise the situation by telling yourselfto feel excited. An increase of 15-20% on performance is nothing to be sniffed at!

Hope you found this blog interesting, if you would like to learn more about mental toughness please visit our website and get in touch. Drop me an email and let me know what you think, I would love to hear from you. Visit our website and check out our other blogs, there's something in there for everyone.


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