Avoid Looking Nervous

You may get nervous at times - that sweaty, shaky, hot, miserable feeling[1]. Maybe you're interviewing for a job or waiting to hear about a grade at school. Sometimes it is OK to let others know how you are feeling; they may be supportive and understanding and can perhaps help. However, other times you don't want others to know that you are nervous. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to hide your nervousness.


Looking the Part

  1. Realize you don't look as nervous as you feel. Keep in mind that for the most part, people don't know what is going on inside your head. Although you may be giving off some signs of nervousness, you probably don't look as nervous as you might feel.
    • Keep in mind the 'spotlight effect' in which you may think others pay more attention to you than they really do, simply because you're seeing the world from your vantage, so it can seem like it is all about you sometimes.[2]
    • However, if there are 10 people in a room, others may be equally likely to attend equally to all the other people in the room, meaning you and your nerves won't, in most cases, be paid too much attention.
  2. Expand your posture. Sometimes called power posing, those who show an expanded posture actually come to feel more powerful and are seen as being more confident in the eyes of others. This is the idea of 'faking it until you make it' – and studies show that it can work to help you seem and feel more confident and therefore less nervous. [3]
    • To expand your posture, extend your arms and/or legs, stick out your chest somewhat, and/or tilt your head back slightly.
    • If possible, escape to somewhere private, like the bathroom, to engage in this behavior without worrying about others watching you.
    • If you can't get to a private place, you can still do expand your posture. If you are sitting down, for example, take up more space by extending out your leg on your desk or leaning back and opening up your arms and placing your hands behind your head.
  3. Engage outwardly. If you are nervous during a conversation, instead of thinking about your nervousness, concentrate on the other person. Ask her questions such as, what do you think? Or, how do you feel about that? This will help you to concentrate on her rather than yourself.
    • Be careful not to ask too many questions, however, or this might make you seem nervous and unsure of yourself. When you ask a question, listen carefully and really dig in and try to take her perspective and think about why she might be responding in the particular way that she is. The key is to focus your attention on someone other than yourself.
  4. Gaze directly. If you are talking to someone, look at her, don't look past her, or at your shoes, or that nice picture on the wall. There doesn't have to be direct sustained eye contact, but you will look less nervous and more confident if you look at who you are speaking to. Avoiding looking at someone is a sure sign of being nervous.[4]
  5. Avoid fidgeting. To avoid looking nervous, you need to keep still. One sign of nervousness is moving around your hands and/or feet slightly; or doing things like curling your hair. To not look nervous, you will need to focus some mental resources on staying relatively still. [5]
  6. Keep your body still. Another sign of nervousness is rocking back and forth. Focus instead of staying as still as possible. Imagine yourself as a solid and unmovable pillar. Another way to refrain from rocking is to stand up; it is more difficult to rock when your body isn't in a position to. [5]
  7. Avoid biting your nails. People who bite their nails look nervous. If you feel that you need something for your mouth to do in order to release some nervous energy, try chewing on a piece of gum instead. Do so gently or somewhat subtly though, otherwise your excessive chewing will have you looking just as nervous as if you were biting your nails.[6]
  8. Monitor your appearance. Your poise, or lack of it, is shown by your physical bearing and the way that you use your hands. There are a number of things that can affect your poise:
    • Hands clasped behind the back. To counteract this, make an effort to keep your arms at your sides but be sure to keep them relaxed.
    • Hands held rigidly at the sides. This is going too far in the opposite direction; it will look like you are trying to control your nervous movements. If your arms feel tense, that's a sign that you are holding them to rigidly.
    • Moving your hands repeatedly in and out of pockets. Focus instead on keeping your hands in one place for several minutes at a time.
    • Buttoning and unbuttoning your jacket. This is a pointless behavior and will make you look nervous. If you are taking off your jacket, then unbutton it, otherwise leave it alone.
    • Aimlessly moving your hand to your face or glasses. Keep your hands by your side and away from your face to counteract this.
    • Toying with your jewelry or an object in your hand. If you make an effort to keep your hands at your side, you won't be able to nervously manipulate objects.
    • With conscious effort these manifestations of nervousness can be controlled.

Thinking Calmly

  1. Assess what is making you nervous. Identify the cause of your nervousness. Think about what is happening in your life that might be making you nervous. Sometimes the answer is obvious and is staring you in the face, like when you are nervous before giving a public speech. Other times your nervousness may stem from more subtle or ‘background’ factors, such as when you are waiting to hear the news about whether you got into college, or are waiting to hear about a medical result.
    • Once you identify the cause, you can begin to think about how to think more calmly about it. For example, if you don’t get into that particular college, you still have a shot at other schools, or you can gain some life experience, take a break and apply again next year.
  2. Take a breath and relax. Breathing deeply causes many changes in the body, many of which reduce stress and nervousness.[7] Before you speak, try taking a deep breath or two to see how you feel. You will likely feel less nervous and will then look less nervous, too.
  3. Work on one thing at a time. Sometimes we become nervous when we realize how busy we are. Still, we can only efficiently work on one thing at a time. Focus on the task at hand and set clear goals to make progress on it, then once you hit your progress marker, move on to the next task.
    • Keep in mind that not all tasks are equally time sensitive. Be sure to prioritize tasks that have the most pressing deadlines.
  4. Remove yourself from the situation. If you are nervous for a particular reason and you are having trouble calming down, see if you can appropriately get yourself out of there. Say you need to go to the bathroom or take an important call. This can give you a few minutes to cool off and collect yourself away from others.[8]

Calming Down

  1. Relax your muscles. Nervousness can cause you to tense up your body. Counteract this by relaxing your muscles with a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)[9] Keep in mind that you should do this in a private place or it may look odd:
    • First, take a slow and deep breath and then make a certain muscle group in your body, such as those in your neck, tense. To tense your muscles, use them and squeeze in hard for 5 seconds. It is OK to feel a bit of discomfort and for you to be shaking some.
      • Be careful not to squeeze too hard; stop immediately if you feel an intense shooting pain.
    • Then, exhale slowly and completely relax the muscles in that group; release all the tension and let the muscles rest. Your muscles in the group you are working should feel loose and at ease. Focus on noticing the difference between how your muscles feel when they are tense and when they are relaxed.
    • Stay in your relaxed state for 15-20 seconds then move on to another muscle group
  2. Get some exercise. Regular physical exercise can help improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. [10] So, find your preferred method of exercising, be it, going to the gym, running around the track, or going for a nice long walk, and stick to it!
    • To help you maintain your motivation, try listening to some upbeat music while you workout.
  3. Engage in a relaxation technique. There are a number of different ways to calm your mind, which will help you to look less nervous. Keep in mind, though, that engaging in some of these techniques may make you seem nervous in light of the fact that you are using the technique. If you don’t want others to know you are nervous, it may be best to do any technique that may compromise how you are feeling, in private.
    • Breath deeply through your nose, count five seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth over five seconds. Continue with this exercise until you feel calmed down. You will then look less nervous.[11]
    • Try thinking about something else that makes you feel calm and less nervous. Think about a supportive loved one, your happy dog, or whatever else may bring some peace and calm to you.
    • Visualize a calm and peaceful scene. Imagine a very calm beach. The waves are gently unfolding out onto the pebbles, making a trickling sound as the water retreats back to the ocean. A seagull flies by overhead squawking softly. The wind blows gently. Imagine this as deeply as possible and embrace the calmness it brings.[12]
  4. Practice mindfulness. To be mindful is to direct your attention to the present moment and to accept it without evaluating or judging it. Mindfulness is effective for reducing anxieties, which can then help you avoid looking nervous.[13] There are a number of different ways to be mindful.[13] You can be mindful of your bodily sensations by noticing, without judgment, the sensations of your body. Notice the ways you itch, or how the air feels on your skin. Start from the top or bottom of your body and work your way all the way through your body. You can also be mindful of your senses. Focus on your senses: your sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Do not judge the information coming in through your senses; let it come through and pass. Or, you can be mindful of your emotions. Label your emotions as you feel them: “fear”, “anxiety”, “nervousness”. Do not judge them, just observe and experience them and let them go.
  5. Try meditation. Meditation involves quieting your mind and being in the present moment. When you meditate, you come to regulate your emotions better.[14] This can help you to stay and look calm instead of nervous. There are different ways to meditate, and although meditation techniques will take practice to learn, and you may most easily learn from an expert, you can try on your own as well:[15] Try guided meditation. Using as many of your five sense as possible, conjure up a calming image or scene in your mind. You can also try mantra meditation. Silently repeat a word or phrase in your mind. This will help you to focus your mind and remove unwanted anxiety-provoking thoughts.


  • Don't wring your hands or play with your hair. Some people do these things without even realizing it.
  • Plan ahead when you know you are doing something that makes you nervous. Know it is going to happen so you can be prepared for it.
  • Practice in front of a mirror if you are attempting a speech of some sort.
  • Stand up straight; it makes you look more confident.

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Sources and Citations