Stress: Nervousness
Nervousness, what is it? How to reduce nervousness

Excessive nervousness or stress can impact performance. Discover what you can do to deal with your nervousness. How to reduce nervousness.

What can I do to Deal with my Nervousness

What is the nervousness?

Most people report nervousness or anxiety prior to competition, job or similar. Being nervous is not a problem - you’ve probably experienced the beneficial effects of some pre-nervousness – increased focus, physical activation, or slight doubts so as to not be overconfident. The problem is in not having skills to manage the nervousness. Instead of viewing nervousness as something « to get rid of », the goal should be to « manage » nervousness so it is an asset as opposed to a detriment to performance. You want to work towards controlling nervousness so it doesn’t hurt performance and actually use it to help performance.

How to Recognize my Nervousness

A first step in learning how to manage nervousness / stress is to recognize the two ways nervousness is apparent – physical nervousness and mental nervousness. It is important to distinguish between these types of anxiety because we will use different strategies to “control” them. Recognize that most athletes experience both physical and mental nervousness but often one is more dominant:

Physical Nervousness

This type of nervousness or anxiety relates to symptoms in the body. Some commons signs or symptoms include:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tight muscles
  • Jittery
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Having to go to the bathroom

Mental Nervousness

This type of nervousness or anxiety relates to symptoms in the mind. Some common signs and symptoms include:
  • Worry about ability to perform well
  • Negative thinking
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Doubts
  • What if’s

Nervousness Symptoms

When you experience pre-nervousness, what are your primary symptoms? Think about how the symptoms impact your performance. Now, we’ll work to target those symptoms that have a detrimental effect on your performance.

Best Strategies to Manage Nervousness

You now know a bit about physical and mental anxiety / nervousness. Let’s take it a step further and list some specific strategies you can use to manage your physical and mental nervousness.

How to Manage your Physical Nervousness

The goal is to calm your body. Following are some effective strategies to control physical manifestations of anxiety, with one overviewed in detail:

• Stretching
• Diaphragmatic breathing
• Massage
• Easy movement (to keep muscles from tightening)
• Light jogging

Diaphragmatic Breathing

We know that correct breathing can be used to calm the body by providing oxygen to the working muscles and relaxing the muscles in the chest and abdomen. The key is to take oxygen/ air deep into the diaphragm (belly) as opposed to only into the upper chest which is what athletes typically do when anxious.

Steps to learning effective Belly Breathing:
  • Lay on your back with one hand resting on your stomach just below your bellybutton.
  • Slowly take in a deep breath.
  • Concentrate on bringing the air into your belly. Your stomach should expand or rise as you inhale- and the hand that is on your belly should also rise. This is an indicator that you are breathing with your diaphragm.
  • Slowly exhale-squeeze the muscles in your abdomen to get all the air out.
  • Now, bring rhythm into your breathing by inhaling and exhaling to a count.
  • IN 1-2-3... HOLD 1-2-3... OUT 1-2-3... repeat this several times
  • Become aware of the tension leaving your body as your exhale.
This body relaxation exercise can be practiced before going to sleep at night, when watching TV at home, or before a tough set in practice. With practice, it can be used to manage your nervousness minutes prior to a performance or even during breaks in a performance.

How to Manage your Mental Nervousness

The goal is to calm the mind. Following are strategies directed to the mental manifestations of anxiety, with one overviewed in detail:

• Directing thoughts and self-talk
• Imagining successful performance
• Recalling successes
• Using confidence builders
• Purposefully distracting – listen to music, talk to friends

Directing thoughts / self-talk:

Worry and doubts about one’s ability to perform well are to be expected. The key is to NOT focus on the worry and worry about your worry. Instead, acknowledge you are worried and get on with more productive thinking; thinking that can help your performance. An essential first step is to identify thoughts that would be more productive. Some ideas for thoughts or self-talk that are beneficial to your performance include:
  • Reminders about your performance - instructional talk related to what you need to do to perform well.
  • Confidence Builders - talk that reminds you of your preparation and readiness such as “you’ve trained hard all year’, “you didn’t miss a practice”, “you’re stronger than you have ever been”.
  • Emotional Words - self-talk that gets you emotionally focused such as “go for it”, “be strong”, and “this race is yours”.
Managing your thinking not only gets you thinking effectively but also keeps your mind occupied so there will be no room for you to worry about your worry. To most effectively manage your mental nervousness, it is beneficial to plan your “productive thinking” in advance so you know how and when to “shift” your thinking. And, practice effective thinking on a regular basis in training so it becomes a habit.

Conclusion about Nervousness

Now, it's time to get started!

Now that you know about physical and mental nervousness and strategies to help you manage your nervousness/ anxiety... it is time to GET STARTED! On a consistent basis, practice the Belly Breathing exercise and work on monitoring and managing your thinking. These concepts and strategies related to managing nervousness, on paper, seem fairly easy. And, yes, they are easy to understand. It is the DOING that is tough – especially in an emotionally charged competitive environment. If you find you need further help on putting this into action, contact us.

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