Deal with Being Nervous

Feeling nervous is perfectly normal. In fact, lots of people experience it; they just learn to hide it well. If you are feeling nervous, there are several things you can do beforehand and on the spot to handle it. This article will show you how.

10 Second Summary

1. Rehearse beforehand and practice breathing calmly.
2. Turn nervous thoughts into positive affirmations.
3. Shift focus from yourself to content.
4. Take your time and keep the situation in perspective.
5. Let go of perfectionism.


Preparing for a Nerve-Racking Situation

  1. Assess your nerves. In order to know what to do to best help yourself through nerves, take stock of your symptoms. This way you can focus on ways of calming yourself down that work best for you. Common symptoms include:
    • Sweating
    • Dry Mouth
    • Shaking/trembling
    • Butterflies
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Stammering/shaky voice
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Dizziness
    • Shallow breathing
    • Biting nails/ fiddling
    • Defensive body language (like crossing your arms and legs)
  2. Rehearse beforehand.[1]Just like everything else, we improve our confidence and abilities with extra practice. Try to imagine what it will be like to greet whatever you're nervous about. See yourself successfully and confidently meeting your goals for this situation. Don't try to plan everything to a tee (otherwise you'll end up holding yourself to it). While nervousness may never go away entirely, the duration of nervousness throughout the event diminishes rapidly with experience.
  3. Breathe.[2]Try learning some techniques to take deep, relaxing breaths. These techniques will serve you in preparation of the moment and can even be done in moments of major nervousness. Whether you have a tendency to use shallow breaths, monitored breaths, or breath too rapidly, deep breathing will help you breath more efficiently. This way your body will be receiving more of what it needs to get through a moment of major energy expenditure. Also, relaxed breathing will relax your highly stimulated autonomic nervous system.[3]
  4. Turn nervous thoughts into affirmations. Nervousness is just our adrenaline pumping--the production of energy. So, when we get nervous our minds are busy having tons of ideas that correspond with the stressful intensity of our feelings: "I can't do this." or "I'm not good enough."[4] While you may not be able to stop the racing thoughts, you can replace them with affirmations. Affirmations are positive descriptions of your capability, written in the first person. The following are examples of affirmative statements that you can drown out negative thoughts and poke hole in your belief of them:
    • “I am the best candidate for this job”.
    • “I am perfectly qualified to give this performance and I will”.
    • “I can handle this”.
    • “They want me to succeed on this test and I will”.
  5. Use visualization techniques. Imagine yourself at the event you are nervous about not only doing the task successfully, but doing it with the most success imaginable. Feel yourself as purposeful and confident, and concentrate on the small details of what's going on around you. Go through the entire successful sequence of events and take in the feeling of accomplishment that runs through it. This technique is frequently used by athletes, and has proven powerful in increasing game time confidence.[2]
    • For example, if you are nervous about talking to a crush, imagine yourself striking up a funny, engaging conversation that has everyone laughing and your crush looking at you in a whole new way.
  6. Accept yourself and your skill level. In order to concentrate on what you're doing rather than being self-conscious, you need to accept your skill level. Not everyone is perfect at everything, and if you are doing something difficult for you, accept that and not judge yourself at a level you simply are not at. [5]
    • Determine what is expected, and what is a bonus. You might have higher expectations than what is really required. Maybe all you need is a C on that test to pass geometry--an A would be even better, of course, but all you need is a C!
    • For example, if public speaking just isn't your strong point, don't judge yourself harshly for an occasional mistake or having lost your place. Realistic expectations based on skill level also makes it is easier to drop the judgmental attitude towards yourself that nerves commonly cause.
    • Accepting your skill level means honestly facing your strengths and weaknesses so that you can form manageable expectations. Learn more about cultivating self acceptance here.
  7. Embrace your nervousness. It may seem counter-inutitive to accept and welcome being nervous...after all, you are trying to not feel nervous! But trying to squelch down natural feelings has a way of making them worse.
    • Allow yourself to feel uneasy, but recognize that just because you feel uneasy does not mean you cannot do something.
    • Accept that you will feel nervous as a natural state in a given situation...just as you would feel happy, sad, or angry in a given situation. Instead of running from the feeling, simply allow it to be present, but not overwhelm you.
    • Being nervous has shows you care. And if you care, you are more likely to do well at something than someone who does not.

Managing Nerves on the Spot

  1. Start strong.[6] Be extra prepared with a clear, strong starting point in order to provide the boost to carry you forward for the remainder of the time. If you're interviewing for a job, for example, come in with a friendly word of appreciation for some aspect of the company.
  2. Shift focus from self to content.[6]People who are prone to nervousness typically think more about themselves than about whatever it is that they’re trying to do.[7]Nervousness can double when you see the cause of the nerves (an interview, a test) as overly-reflective of you and your potential. Try to replace your thoughts about how you're coming off and what others think of you with rehearsals of the real juice of what you're doing. Maybe this is the material that will be on an exam, or lines from the piece of music you will play.
  3. Watch yourself. Facial expressions, gestures, and intonation are all signs of whether or not we are feeling nervous. When you notice these details of how you present yourself, you can create the distance needed to adjust to postures and gestures that show more confidence. By changing these parts of your appearance, you are teaching yourself to "act as if" you're not nervous. When your body changes, your mind naturally follows suit.[8]
    • Some nervous body language that you might want to alter includes fidgeting, slouching, defensive posturing, little to no eye contact, and rubbing your face and neck.[9]
  4. Take your time.[10] Rushing through whatever is making you nervous will only be confusing to others, and display how nervous you are. If the situation involves the need to speak (and it usually does) remember to speak low and slow. Slowing your speech will allow you to be more clearly understood, and lowering your voice just slightly will decrease the likelihood of a letting out a nervous squeak or vocal crack.
  5. Keep the situation in perspective.[4] Remember not to sweat the small stuff. Most of what we're worried never happen, and those that do are rarely as bad as we anticipate. Try to focus on the grand scheme of things--whether or not any slip-up or fumble will matter, even as soon as next year.
    • For example, if you are nervous about having to do a presentation in front of an audience, remind yourself that a mispronunciation or having to use your cue cards will hardly be memorable by the end of the presentation. What's more, even if the presentation is a flop, one presentation does not determine your self-worth--it's just one instance.

Making Long-Term Changes

  1. Allow yourself to really feel your nerves.[11]If you feel nervous frequently, try slowing down and letting yourself feel your nerves completely without a fight. Don’t put a time limit on it--instead just allow nervous feelings free rein for however long they last. You'll feel awful for a minute or so, and then all of a sudden your nerves will recede. This is an important exercise for teaching yourself that nerves are not long-term threats (as we often perceive them to be).
  2. Unlearn nervous habits.[12] Do you fidget or always bounce your leg when you're seated? Try to notice or ask someone to point out your nervous behaviors and body language. You can stop doing these behaviors by doing so intentionally, monitoring and changing the behavior as it happens, or by giving yourself minor punishments when you do them, like snapping a rubber band on your wrist. Doing this will calm the jitters these behaviors cause, and change way people respond to you. Both of these fixes will raise your confidence in the long run.
  3. Let go of your perfectionism. Oftentimes nervousness goes along with magnifying our imperfections, ignoring all that we do well, and judging our own mistakes harshly.[4] Even if you make mistakes, rest easy knowing that everyone makes mistakes. What's more, nothing is more impressive than recovering with grace and keeping going.
  4. Go jogging. Maintaining an active lifestyle is crucial for a healthy body and mind. Jogging, or any other aerobic activity will help burn off adrenalin and the nervous symptoms it produces. Regular exercise will keep you more calm day to day, reduce stress and tension, and increase energy. You can view it as a preventative measure for facing moments of great stress.
  5. Regulate your sleep schedule. Even with the disruption of your nerves, try to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night. Compounded lack of sleep, fatigue, compromises your ability to cope with stressful situations, and you may find yourself feeling moody and unable to focus.[13] Just as it's important to get a good night of sleep before the situation you're nervous about, good sleep reduces anxiety overall.
  6. Learn relaxation exercises.[14] Instead of trying to relax by watching television or browsing the Internet, try a deep relaxation practice that has a physical effect on the mind. For instance, deep breathing relaxes a major nerve that runs from the diaphragm to the brain, sending a message to your whole body to loosen up. These exercises are quite helpful in preparation for especially nerve-wracking situations. The following are popular methods for sustaining a relaxed lifestyle:[15]
  7. Start a journal.[15]When your brain is afraid that it won't remember something, it rehearses it over and over again.Your mind may cause nervous thoughts by bringing your focus to a worry or fear more than necessary. By writing out your thoughts, especially the ones the recur, you are releasing yourself from the responsibility of keeping them fresh in mind. A journal can act as your trash bin for the thoughts that you decide you don't want to keep around all the time, like self-defeating beliefs and judgments.
  8. Connect with others.[14] Having a strong support system that you don't hesitate to use can do more than just distract you from nervousness. By talking about how you feel, you may find that people can't tell that you're nervous the way you imagine them to. Also, it can be helpful to remember that others experience nerves themselves. This means they reasonably expect nerves to come into play, especially in situations that we deem valuable and worthy of our devoted attention.


  • If you think you may have a more severe mental health condition, look into counseling for choosing a therapy that can help you address root causes of nervousness.

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