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How to Overcome Nervousness

Image by Rev Dan Catt.

Image by Rev Dan Catt (license).

So you have a date. Or an important meeting coming up. Or a presentation to do in front of your class.

You can’t really sit still. You fidget with a hand or a foot. Your palms are perhaps starting become a little moist. You don’t feel so good. You feel nervous.

What do you do?

What can you do in advance to prevent nervousness? And what can you do to lessen or remove the nervousness that may rise within you just before or during an event?

Below are a few tips. Some you can use today. Some you can incorporate into your life over a longer time-span.

You may want try a combination of a few of these tips. For example, if you are feeling a lot of nervous energy then don’t go for the positive visualization right away. It may not have that much of an effect if you’re nervous and your mind is already throwing various negative visualizations in your face.

Instead, first take some belly breaths to calm yourself to down and to center yourself in the now rather than some negative vision of a possible future. Then, when your breathing is nice, deep and calm visualize how well an upcoming meeting or presentation will turn out.

Be prepared.

Obviously. If you have a presentation then study your notes and what you are about to say carefully before stepping up on stage. If you have an important meeting, do your homework so you know what will or may come up in meeting. If you have a date, perhaps try to think of a few interesting topics/questions to bring up in case the conversational flow hits an awkward silence. If you have a job interview, think about what they may ask you and figure out some good answers.

Doing this carefully and meticulously can remove a lot of nervousness. It may not always be fun. But being well prepared can be helpful not only to remove nervousness but also to ace the presentation or get the job.

Ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen?

What is really the worst that could happen? How will it affect you in the long run? In many cases you’ll find that the answer boils down to: not really that much. It’s easy to get too wrapped up in what is about to happen and magnify the event and possible consequences in your mind until it seems like it’s a matter of life and death. It seldom is. Asking a few simple questions can put things into a healthier perspective and calm you down.

Take 30 belly breaths.

Belly breathing is a wonderful way to vanquish negative feelings and visualizations and return to the present moment. Just taking a few dozen belly breaths can change nervous and shallow breathing into a calm and strong alternative. It’s quite remarkable how quickly this can change how you feel. Here’s how you go about it:

  • Sit in a relaxing position with your legs apart.
  • Put your hands on your stomach. Using your stomach breathe in slowly through your nose. If you are doing it right your stomach will expand and you’ll feel it with your hands.
  • Breathe out slowly through your nose and do it with some force so you feel your stomach pull slightly inwards towards your spine.
  • Breathe in and out 30 times. Take slow and deep breaths.
  • After you have taken 30 breaths and focused on counting them you should not only feel more relaxed and centred. Your body will also be able to continue breathing in this manner without you focusing on it. And that’s it. Continue with your normal day.

Taking some deeper breaths with your belly can also be useful if you start to feel nervous or unfocused during your interview/presentation/meeting.

Visualize in a positive way.

Much of our time is spent habitually visualizing what may go wrong in a future situation. This can, of course, create a lot of nervousness. It can also give you the results you imagined – or feared – through self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you’ll fail, then you are making it a whole lot harder for yourself to succeed.

Visualizing in a positive way is definitely a more useful and pleasant way to spend some time with your imagination. Now, you may think that visualizing this way is just unrealistic. But visualizing in a negative way is just as unrealistic. Either way, you are imagining what may happen in a possible future scenario. Doing it in a negative way may just feel more realistic because that’s what people around you are doing or because it’s what you’ve been doing every day for the last few years.

How you imagine things will unfold and what will happen can change a lot about how you behave, what you say and how you feel in this future situation. And that can have a big effect on how things actually go.

Here are some practical instructions for when you, for instance, have an upcoming meeting:

Visualize how great the events will unfold – see and hear it – and also how great will you feel at this meeting.

See yourself smiling, being positive, open and having a great time. See the excellent outcome in your mind. Then release by visualizing that it has already happened, that the meeting is over with the desired result. This is surprisingly effective and will get you into a good and relaxed mood before even stepping into the first, second or twentieth meeting.

The above solutions are the quicker ones. The suggestions below are the ones you need more time to incorporate. It may take weeks, months or even years. Over time you can gradually make these ideas stronger parts of your life. And they can make you feel less and less nervous in any situation.

Practise, practise, practise.

The more you practise, take action and put yourself in situations that may make you nervous the more confident you become. You have been there before, you know pretty much what will happen. So you feel more and more comfortable and less nervous.

Realize that people don’t care that much about what you do.

One big source of nervousness is focusing too much on what people will think of you. And thinking that their criticism is always about you.

But people don’t think that much about what you do. You keep much of your attention from day to day on your problems, challenges and triumphs. And that’s exactly what the next guy/girl is doing too.

In general, people keep much of their attention on their own challenges and problems. And their criticism is often about something negative in their life rather than about something you did. So don’t worry too much about it. Realizing that what you do isn’t that important to other people can be a bit disappointing. But also liberating.

Now, it’s very easy to fall back into a behaviour where you feel needy and wonder what people may think about you and what you do. But by working on this you can, step by step and over time, become less and less worried or bothered by what people might think. This allows you more inner freedom to do and try what you want since you’re not feeling trapped in box of other people’s opinions.

Stay in the present moment.

This one ties into the one about belly breathing. When you take those deep, powerful breaths and focus on doing that your mind seems to silence. Your projections of what may happen at the meeting or job interview die out. Nervousness comes from these negative projections of what may happen sometime in the future. Or from what happened in the past, perhaps from the last time you had a meeting or an interview. When you instead focus your attention on what’s happening now, now and… now the nervousness dies out too.

Another way to stay in – or return to – the present moment is to just pay attention to what is happening right now. Just focus on the scene and the sounds right in front of you. Don’t think about the reports you have finish before 5 o’clock, the meeting tomorrow or what you want for dinner. Just pay attention to the present moment and nothing else for a few moments. Make it a habit and try to expand the time you can spend in the present moment before your thoughts drift away again.

Staying the present moment can be very beneficial if you want to lessen negative feelings and thought in your life. I highly recommend checking out books like The Power of Now or A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle to deepen your understanding and get better explanations of something that can be so simple and powerful but also so difficult to describe.

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  • John November 12, 2007, 5:47 pm

    Excellent article. One more, if I may:

    If you feel yourself getting nervous, quite often you can simply chase it down by taking a good look at it. I will often ask “Why am I nervous?”. When I get an answer to that, I start hunting. What is so important about that? And so on and so on. Quite often it boils down to “people don’t care that much”, or it can be my own issues throwing my perspective out-of-whack.

  • Henrik Edberg November 12, 2007, 6:13 pm

    Thanks for the comment and your kind words, John. And that’s a good way to go about it too. Asking the right questions can often be useful and revealing.

  • Albert | UrbanMonk.Net November 13, 2007, 1:18 am

    Hey Henrik – great stuff. I like how you blended in psychological and spiritual tips into the one article. And I totally agree with “Ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen?”.

    Most of the time, anxieties come from distortions of reality – the chances of something bad happening are over estimated, the penalties of failure, etc. Thanks for pointing that out, and with all these other tips too!

    Cheers,
    Albert
    UrbanMonk.Net
    – Bliss. Success. Love.

  • Tammie November 13, 2007, 3:45 pm

    Really good article.

    I have found that practicing yoga not only gives me tools that I can use in the moment to reduce nervousness, but it also helps me be less stressed and anxious over all.

    May I say, though, that a certain amount of nervousness is good? We get nervous when we care about what is happening, and that caring leads us to invest more in doing well.

  • Henrik Edberg November 14, 2007, 12:59 pm

    Albert: Thank you very much for your kind words.

    Tammie: Thanks. I agree that a bit of nervousness can be sometimes helpful as it can lead to a larger effort being made.

    I’ve also found that I’m sometimes able to reframe a slight nervousness as excitement about something I’m about to do. I don’t have that much experience or consistent results with it though.

  • Henderson November 14, 2007, 6:47 pm

    I used to be really nervous before, but what really changed it was “The Power of NOW” book by Tolle.

    It just shows how much you come up with yourself is BS, all the excuses and nervousness is just a result of focusing on the things that make us nervous.

    Nice post

  • Henrik Edberg November 14, 2007, 6:58 pm

    I agree, Henderson. The Power of Now is a great help to reduce nervousness and all those other negative feelings that we create. Thanks for the comment.

  • Susan November 15, 2007, 9:27 pm

    Oddly enough, I get performance anxiety if I try to visualize that something will go great. My mantra becomes, “I will do an adequate job.” Takes the pressure off to perform at top-level and enables me, more often than not to actually perform at top-level without sweating it so much.

  • greatmanagement November 17, 2007, 6:48 pm

    ‘Ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen?’

    A great idea. Most individuals tend to over concern themselves with what could happen without really thinking about it. Thinking about it tends to lower their concern immediately.

    Great post with great tips/ideas.

    Andrew

  • Tom Haynes November 26, 2007, 4:42 am

    I get really bad anxiety attacks. I used to have to medicate myself before an interview or important meeting.

    I have found meditation to be very effective. The belly breathing in This article is a form of meditation.

    I personally use and recommend the Holosyne program. But different methods work for different people!

  • Aaron danelison December 8, 2007, 11:08 am

    That is really great info tou wrote. I was seeking this kind of info as i am nervous about an event i have tomorrow. I am always getting nervous about things even if it is a little thing. Even if i have done the exact same thing a million times i will still get nervous and i want to stop this from happening!
    Over all this article was really helpful Henrik and it has already stopped my nervous as i am writting.
    Thank You and Well Done.

  • Adam February 2, 2008, 3:40 pm

    I have my first interview for a graphic design job in two days and im already sweating over it. The information above helps but I don’t think I can stop my nervousness, I have prepared and Im still preparing but i fear my nervousness will ruin it all and my mind will go blank and I start shaking and blabbering some nonsense.

    The only thing I can think of is having a strong drink that will calm me down but then the inteviewer might smell it on me even if i chew mints.

    See i always think of the bad things I just want to be normal again and be confident like i used to be.

    Books and thinking wont do it for me what else is there.

  • Shea B. February 28, 2008, 4:53 am

    Thanks so much for this article! One thing about me is I always wonder what people think of me and sometimes if say, Im in front of people and I see someone whisper to someone else or hear someone say something about what Im saying or performing I always think that they are saying something bad about what Im doing when actually they could be talking about something totally different or saying something good about it. One thing about me is if im in class with a friend of mine then if I have to get in front of the class Im not as nervous and I will talk more during class [unless the teacher is talking.] But when Im in a class with people i know but not real close to like my friends Im alittle more nervous about getting in front of the class and I usually dont say muchduring the class. But, thanks again for this article!

  • john March 16, 2008, 11:57 pm

    I am always short of breath before i read out loud and i look like such an idiot help me!

  • Anna April 4, 2008, 9:38 pm

    I was so happy to find this kind of article. I feel much better about presentations coming soon. There are tons of people think alike about nervousness so that I don’t feel like I’m the only one worry about what people think while I’m doing presentation and stuff. At this point, I totally agree with Shea B. :)

  • raymanexe April 14, 2008, 3:52 pm

    thank you for this article… I’ve been feeling nervous for the last few weeks. I’m a web developer i currently have a problem with my deadline on the job. it’s my deadline tomorrow and i still haven’t finished the job. the websites he makes me do is a big website and I’ve been doing it for 1 month already. My employer don’t want any explanations and wants to get the job done fast. I’m in a lot of pressure right now. i don’t know what will happen to me, my employer might get mad or fire me. i don’t want to feel this way i just want to live my life comfortably… haaay :(

  • kate April 17, 2008, 2:53 am

    i am doing a speach on this topic of nervousness and i did it because it is something that i am not only interested in, i need to overcome my nervousness. i took your advice and thought about the present before and after the speech and that helped to calm me down. i realized that i wasnt being hurt or attacted by anyone at the moment… so i figured i was doing pretty good! while i was standding in front of the podium i took five(non rushed)deep breaths and i couldnt beleive how much of the stress was releived! thanx!

  • Patrick m. May 6, 2008, 4:37 pm

    Please help me . Iam very nervous particularly when Iam sitting in a meeting and told to say something. please help. Is there any drug or herb I shoul take before such a meeting.

  • Steve May 8, 2008, 6:58 am

    Firstly i would like to congratulate you on a great article Henrik.
    I just want to know a couple of things… do the methods you spoke of work in people who are constantly anxious??? And do you believe anxiety and nervousness are the causes of each other.
    I dont know what has been happening to me over the last couple of months. I think i had an axiety attack which caused me to have SOB, a dull pain in my chest (left side), and constant palpitations. After getting it all checked out with a cardiologist, he said that it’s all because of my mind. Im 22 and i dont want things like this interfering in my life right now. i dont want medications but i do want a quick fix.
    I will try the things you suggest and the additional posts also. I wouls like to know what else i can do for me to stop feeling like this.
    Thanks

  • R.T May 20, 2008, 7:20 pm

    I really am happy to see that I’am not the only one that feels like this, I ‘am so nervous, I have to take a test in the morning to be come a nursing aide and I know that when I get called to perform that I will probably start having Anxiety causing me to breath really hard also causing to forget everything that I have studied for. Please help. I don’t want to be a failer.